Tipping Points
Breaking down the biggest plays and decisions from Sunday's closest games.

Tipping Points: Week 5

Christian McCaffrey
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Spratt

Seventeen-to-nothing halftime leads in both of the 4 p.m. ET games created an extended lull in the middle of football Sunday, but a compelling Thursday night game, myriad close early Sunday games, and a shocking Sunday night upset carried the weight of an excellent week overall. Rivers will cover that latter game in his Any Given Sunday column, but that still leaves plenty of drama for this week's Tipping Points.

Game of the Week

Jaguars at Panthers

The Jaguars and Panthers will always be connected by their shared birthday in the league's 1995 expansion, but this season, they are more alike than ever. Both teams began the season 0-2 and lost their starting quarterbacks in the process, Nick Foles to a broken clavicle that landed him on injured reserve and Cam Newton to a Lisfranc injury. But despite that adversity, the Jaguars and Panthers met in Week 5 after two straight wins returned them to .500. And with Jaguars star cornerback Jalen Ramsey missing the game with a back injury and key Panthers defensive starters Kawann Short and Donte Jackson out with shoulder and groin maladies, neither team could rely as heavily on their defense as they likely would have preferred.

In the first half, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey seemed poised to carry his offense to victory. Despite missing the team's final drive with a cramp, McCaffrey accounted for 237 of the Panthers' 445 yards from scrimmage. And even though McCaffrey had produced 175 combined rushing and receiving yards in three of his first four games this season, his performance on Sunday stood out as his best and sparked his MVP campaign. He put together a highlight reel of avoided tackles that showcased his quickness and elusiveness in the open field.

McCaffrey scored a pair of first-half touchdowns to build a Panthers lead that rookie pass-rusher Brian Burns expanded to two touchdowns when he returned a Mario Addison strip sack for a 56-yard score. But the Jaguars recovered with a touchdown and a field goal to cut their deficit to 21-17 at the half, and they received the second-half kickoff with a chance to take the lead. Gardner Minshew had an open Dede Westbrook at midfield on a third-and-3, but he threw short, forcing a punt back to the Panthers. And Carolina needed just one play to recapture a two-score advantage on McCaffrey's third touchdown of the day.

The Panthers owed the bulk of their offensive yardage to a handful of chunk plays. The Jaguars were much more methodical with extended drives that their fans should see as promising for their future success. Minshew threw for 374 yards, 164 of which went to breakout sophomore receiver DJ Chark. And despite an offensive holding penalty that set them back 10 yards, Chark provided the bulk of the yardage the Jaguars needed on their next drive to answer the long McCaffrey touchdown with a much shorter Leonard Fournette one. Chark caught a high pass in heavy traffic in the middle of the field and dragged corner Ross Cockrell for 10 yards of what ended up a 31-yard gain. And he just missed his third touchdown on a beautiful grab on the right sideline where he spun to make the catch on his back shoulder, tapped both feed down, and stretched out just short of the pylon.

Fournette's ensuing score returned the deficit to four points, and the Jaguars defense had the Panthers a play away from a three-and-out on the subsequent drive on a third-and-6 from the 29. But McCaffrey outran linebacker Quincy Williams on a slant route to gain 17 yards and then added 9 more on an avoided-tackle-enabled catch-and-run, which was extended another 15 yards by a roughing the passer penalty. A loss of 2 on first down set the Panthers back and led to a field goal try from 46 yards away. Joey Slye had his previous deep attempt blocked by Calais Campbell, but he outright missed this one wide right.

Starting from their own 36-yard line, the Jaguars looked like they would march downfield for their first lead after a 9-yard Minshew scramble and a 13-yard Chark catch got them quickly into Panthers territory. But an ineligible player downfield erased the second gain, and then another one backed them into a second-and-16 that predicated an eventual punt. Both teams lost the better part of a football field on penalties for the game, but those are especially distressing for the Jaguars, whose 44 penalties this season are the third-most in football.

The Panthers started their next drive from their own 6-yard line thanks to one of several outstanding Logan Cooke punts on the day. D.J. Moore pulled them out of the shadow of their end zone with a 9-yard catch through good coverage from cornerback Tre Herndon, and then McCaffrey pushed them to midfield and into the fourth quarter with 18- and 16-yard carries that featured two of his best avoided tackles of the day. McCaffrey added 7, 10, 3, and 9 yards with three carries and a catch to start the fourth frame. Kyle Allen faked to McCaffrey and handed the ball to the speedy wide receiver Curtis Samuel for a 9-yard end-around, which set up a third-and-1 from the Jaguars' 5-yard line.

Already up four and with a touchdown looking likely, the Panthers were up to an 88.9% Game-Winning Chance (GWC). But the Jaguars defense came up big. They remained disciplined in coverage on a designed McCaffrey pass, and then they broke through the left side of the line to stop McCaffrey on a fourth-down carry that forced a turnover on downs. The decision to run was the right one for the Panthers, boosting their GWC by 4.1% compared to a field goal try. But the Jaguars' stop was even bigger, improving their odds of a comeback win to 24.2%.

With 11:53 left in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars didn't need all 93 yards from their current field position on their next snap. But they looked like they might get it anyway when Fournette broke their first play for a 48-yard run.

More energized than fatigued, Fournette carried the ball on the next three plays to generate another Jaguars first down, and then backup runner Ryquell Armstead added 7 more on a dump-off pass. Minshew converted the eventual third-and-4 with an 8-yard scramble, but a stopped Fournette run and two incompletions created a fourth-and-10 and forced a Jaguars field goal. Josh Lambo split the uprights, but the Jaguars were still down a point at 28-27.

With less than six minutes remaining, the Panthers started their next drive with a clear plan for McCaffrey to run out the clock, but that plan lasted just one play before he limped off the field after a 2-yard gain. Already up to 25 touches on the day, McCaffrey was cramping, and he did not return to the game. That put the ball in Allen's hands, and he delivered a pair of 7-yard strikes to Moore to pick up a first down. And that's when reserve running back Reggie Bonnafon -- whose lone first-half carry was just his third of the season -- broke free for a 59-yard touchdown scamper.

With just 3:34 remaining, the touchdown vaulted the Panthers to a 93.2% GWC, but they provided the Jaguars with some hope when Slye missed the extra point, keeping the Panthers lead at seven at 34-27. And like he had done all afternoon, Minshew responded to adversity with patience and persistence, hitting Chark and Fournette for 10- and 7-yard completions and scrambling twice for 5 and 11 yards to cross midfield. Fournette earned a new first down on a 3-yard catch that took him out of bounds and left the Jaguars with plenty of time with 2:43 remaining and all three timeouts. But after throwing the ball away to avoid pressure on first-and-10, Minshew couldn't avoid it on second down. Burns crashed into Minshew from behind, jarring loose the ball for Panthers linebacker Marquis Haynes to then recover.

The fumble recovery put the Panthers in good shape with a 97.2% GWC, but with 2:19 remaining, they still needed a first down to extinguish the two-minute warning and all three Jaguars timeouts. And that was looking unlikely after Bonnafon lost 2 yards on a pair of runs on first and second down. Allen went for it on third-and-12, lobbing a deep fade down the right sideline to Curtis Samuel that nearly ended in disaster for the Panthers. The cornerback Herndon intercepted the pass and weaved his way to the Jaguars' 23 on the return, but replay showed that the ball hit the ground just before Herndon established clear possession. The Jaguars still regained possession on the ensuing punt, but that left them with 95 yards to gain instead of the 77 they would have needed with the interception.

With 1:44 left and down to one timeout, there was little mystery to the Jaguars' plan of attack. That allowed the Panthers pass rush to get involved and nearly led to turnovers when safety Tre Boston jumped in front of Chris Conley to defense a pass and again when James Bradberry was well-positioned for a Minshew overthrow down the right sideline.

But Minshew took advantage of his extra lives, converting a third-and-10 with a 26-yard strike to Conley and then adding 11 and 13 more on a pair of throws to Chark on the right sideline. The second catch created a new first-and-10 in Panthers territory with 52 seconds remaining, but the Jaguars lost a critical 21 seconds by completing a 6-yard pass to Westbrook between the hashes. Marquis Lee made a great effort to break a tackle to convert a third-and-4 and get out of bounds, but that still left the Jaguars on the Panthers' 34 with 19 seconds left, time enough presumably for just a few shots at the end zone.

The first miniature Hail Mary was the Jaguars' closest. That's true in part because Conley got his hands on the ball before his momentum carried him through the back of the end zone, but more so because his defender Cockrell had his right arm wrapped up and could easily have been flagged for a defensive pass interference that would have made a Jaguars' game-tying touchdown a formality.

Minshew's second Hail Mary was picked off by safety Eric Reid, sealing a stressful win for the Panthers against a Jaguars team that made a comeback bid with all nine of its lives … just kidding. There was an illegal use of the hands penalty on the Panthers, giving the Jaguars a third and this time shorter throw to the end zone.

And you immediately knew the Jaguars would get a fourth attempt when Burns leapt offsides, giving the Jaguars a free play. They almost didn't need it with Fournette uncovered toward the front of the end zone, but Minshew's pass had some air under it, allowing the deeper Panthers defenders to close the gap and deflect the ball from behind.

Following the pair of penalties, the Jaguars had advanced to the Panthers' 24-yard line, close enough to avoid a Hail Mary entirely. At least, that would have been the case had it not been for the pass-rusher Addison, who fought through tackle Cam Robinson to pressure Minshew in the backfield. Minshew exceled all game in escaping pressure and finding receivers for moderate gains, but he needed a deep gain here and couldn't make it happen. Without time to plant and make a strong throw, Minshew's pass fell several yards short of the end zone, where linebacker Luke Kuechly spiked it to the turf to finally secure a Panthers win.

The Panthers may not have outplayed the Jaguars, but they definitely needed their eventual victory more. With the Saints improving to 4-1 on the year and 3-0 with Teddy Bridgewater starting, the Panthers had to win just to tread water. They improved their playoff odds by 2.3% and sit at just over a 1-in-4 chance to reach the postseason. The Jaguars fell behind the victorious Texans and Colts by a game, but a more-crunched division in an AFC with fewer standout teams allows them a 31.3% playoff chance that is better than that of the team that defeated them on Sunday. Assuming they can pick off the Bengals and Jets in the next three weeks, the Jaguars' season will heat up in November with three consecutive games against their AFC South rivals.

The Best of the Rest

Ravens at Steelers

Just one week ago, this game seemed shockingly unimportant for an early-season matchup of two division rivals that are perennial contenders. But the Ravens' 15-point Week 4 loss to the Browns in Baltimore exposed some defensive problems that the Dolphins and Cardinals couldn't -- the Ravens entered this week as the No. 29 DVOA defense -- and the Steelers won their first game on Monday night and introduced a new wrinkle with the Jaylen Samuels Wildcat. Suddenly, a Steelers home win would throw the AFC North power structure into total flux. But, as was the case in their Week 3 loss to the 49ers, a number of forced turnovers still wasn't enough to propel the Steelers to victory.

The Steelers' first interception was an absolute gift. Up 17-10 with 38 seconds in the first half, Lamar Jackson threw what he thought was a simple out to Seth Roberts on the left sideline, but defensive back Mike Hilton undercut it for a pick. A roughing the passer penalty gave Mason Rudolph one short shot at the end zone, but even the subsequent field goal was a bonus that cut their halftime deficit to just four points.

After the intermission, the Ravens seemed recovered from their mistake. They marched methodically down the field, advancing from their own 25-yard line to the Steelers' 49-yard line over 10 plays and five and a half minutes. An underneath throw to tight end Mark Andrews netted 7 yards and set up a fourth-and-6 from that 49, and the aggressive and analytically minded John Harbaugh opted to go for it. Lamar Jackson drew rookie linebacker Devin Bush into the neutral zone for a 5-yard penalty, so it is unclear whether they would have snapped the ball. But the GWC model saw a decision to pass there as a 3.3% win probability improvement over a punt, so hopefully they would have. The fourth-and-1 call was much easier to make, and Jackson was able to fumble the snap, recover it, and still sneak for a new first down.

After surviving a crazy couple of plays, the Ravens were poised to score some points. Jackson floated a 30-yard pass to Andrews, which the tight end seemed to secure falling backward, facing away from the end zone. But Bush, the same defender who helped extend this Ravens drive with a penalty two plays ago, rolled over the top of Andrews and snatched the ball out of his hands for an improbable interception.

Jackson was hardly at fault, but it was his second interception of the day and again gave the Steelers renewed life, albeit pinned back at their own 13-yard line. On third-and-11, the Ravens brought pressure, but Rudolph escaped it and hit James Washington on the run. It was a critical 26-yard gain, but it cost Rudolph, who was sandwiched between two Ravens defenders after he released the pass and fell heavily to the turf. Rudolph appeared to lose consciousness from the hit. Fortunately, he was eventually able to walk off the field on his own power, but he was sidelined for the rest of the game.

After trading quarterback Josh Dobbs to the Jaguars and losing Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury in the last month, the Steelers saw their season left in the hands of undrafted Samford rookie Devlin Hodges, a player that I, a professional football writer, had never heard of and whom the various Football Outsiders staffers alternatively suggested could be an indie folk singer, an English Lit community college professor, a Barnes & Noble late shift employee, or a Magic: The Gathering enthusiast. But it turns out Hodges is, maybe, good? At the very least, he deserves a lot of credit for coming in cold against a sophisticated-if-not-as-talented Ravens defense and keeping the Steelers in the game. He drew a defensive pass interference penalty on a sideline throw to Washington, unloaded a quick pass to avoid pressure and hit Diontae Johnson for 13 yards, and threw a strike across his body to Vance McDonald while rolling left on a play fake. That last play took the Steelers down to the 1-yard line, where James Conner ran in a touchdown that put Pittsburgh up by three points.

The Ravens responded with a 12-play, 67-yard drive that advanced as far as a second-and-7 from the Steelers' 9-yard line before an offensive holding penalty forced them back and made them kick a field goal. It also pushed the game into the fourth quarter. With 9:41 remaining on the Steelers next possession, Hodges scrambled right and tried to go deep to Nick Vannett. Safety Earl Thomas undercut the pass for an easy interception and returned it all the way to the Steelers' 34-yard line. The pick would have set up a likely scoring drive for the Ravens, but it was erased by a defensive holding penalty from Tony Jefferson, whose knee gave out on the play, forcing him to grab hold of Vannett to avoid allowing an easy big completion. It has since been confirmed that Jefferson tore his ACL on the play and will miss the rest of the season.

The penalty extended that Steelers drive, and Hodges converted one more first down before Jordan Berry punted and pinned the Ravens back to their own 1-yard line. The Ravens showed the confidence they have in their young quarterback, allowing Jackson to throw on both first and second down from his own end zone. But he couldn't connect with either tight end, Andrews or Nick Boyle, and the Ravens punted it back to the Steelers one play later. That left the Steelers in Ravens territory with 6:05 to try to take the lead, and Hodges gained the bulk of the yards they needed with a 21-yard scramble down the right sideline. He later found Samuels with a third-and-5 floater, but Samuels couldn't outrace backup safety Anthony Levine to the edge. The Steelers kicked another field goal to go up 23-20 with 2:37 left in regulation.

The Ravens were on the verge of a third-and-long when running back Mark Ingram couldn't escape a Mike Hilton shoestring tackle on a second-and-8 screen pass, but they were bailed out by a roughing the passer penalty that advanced the ball to their 42-yard line, just 20 yards from decent field goal range. Jackson got most of that on a 14-yard slant to Willie Snead, and then Ingram added 9 more yards with a pair of runs that took the Ravens to a third-and-1 with 1:35 remaining. Jackson didn't sneak that one, but he took a zone read carry himself for an easy 5 yards and another first down, and then connected with Andrew for 3 yards and stopped the clock with his team's second timeout with 54 seconds left. He nearly broke the ensuing second-and-7, but he couldn't avoid the last Steelers lineman, Javon Hargrave, as he ran up through the pocket. The sack pushed the Ravens back to a third-and-10, where Jackson overthrew Roberts, who was open by a step on the left side of the end zone. They had to settle for a 48-yard field goal, which the game's premiere kicker Justin Tucker converted to send the game to overtime.

We've grown used to Ravens games having the most compelling strategic decisions, but those are normally good decisions by Harbaugh and the Ravens. This game's most interesting decision was the Steelers' Mike Tomlin electing to kick off after winning the overtime coin toss. Counting ties as half a win, Tomlin cost his team 5.1% GWC with that puzzling decision, but it looked like it would work perfectly after the Steelers defense dropped Ingram and Jackson for losses on first and second down and tripped up Andrews for a 1-yard gain on third down. But even that best-case defensive series landed the Steelers at their own 32-yard line on offense, a mere 7 yards in front of where an overtime-opening touchback would have started them. I think the football gods were upset with the decision because two plays later, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey punched the ball out of JuJu Smith-Schuster's hands, turning a 10-yard catch-and-run into a turnover and short field for Baltimore.

Already in range of where Tucker connected at the end of regulation, the Ravens ran three times for just 6 yards. Tucker made his 46-yard try more exciting than usual, starting wide of the left upright. But the ball cut back inside the bar to give the Ravens' a walk-off win.

There's no such thing as a bad road win, but coming off of two straight losses, the Ravens failed to impress with just 277 yards of offense against the No. 19 DVOA defense. The four-week defensive adjustments had already tempered the first-month statistical explosion the Ravens had enjoyed thanks to a 49-point blowout of the tanking Dolphins in Week 1. The Ravens will likely fall further from the No. 5 spot despite the win, but they remain well-positioned at 3-2 atop the AFC North standings for a playoff berth. In contrast, the Steelers fall to 1-4 and just an 18.5% playoff chance. With Rudolph possibly sidelined for an already difficult road game against the Chargers next week, the Steelers seem like a better bet to land a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL draft -- which is unfortunate since they traded that pick to the Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Bears vs. Raiders

The No. 25 DVOA Raiders faced a difficult challenge against the No. 8 DVOA Bears, and one would assume it was made tougher by exchanging a scheduled home game for one in London. But the Raiders chose to spend the full week abroad rather than just a couple of days like the Bears, and they built an early lead, book-ending a brutal Nicholas Morrow interception with a pair of second-quarter rushing touchdowns. And really, the Raiders offensive and defensive lines won their battles in the trenches all game, sacking Chase Daniel four times while leaving Derek Carr unblemished and helping Josh Jacobs to a solid 4.7 yards per carry over 26 attempts for the day.

After going three-and-out at the start of the second half, the Bears' GWC fell to 6.7% down 17-0. But they didn't need pass pressure to take advantage of a bizarre Derek Carr fumble -- the quarterback threw a full-speed pitch way past Jacobs, who was only a few feet behind him. Khalil Mack jumped on the loose ball, setting up the Bears offense on a short field.

A defensive holding penalty and two plays later, the Bears broke through with their first points. On their next possession, they followed up with an 89-yard touchdown drive to pull within three points. Daniel capped that drive with a 4-yard strike in the face of pressure to Allen Robinson, sitting down under coverage in the end zone. An offensive holding penalty cut the Raiders' ensuing possession short, and then they punted deep in the middle of the field to Tarik Cohen. Seventy-one yards later, that proved to be a mistake.

Raiders special teamer Keisean Nixon made a heroic effort to sprint the hypotenuse of the field and bring Cohen down before the end zone, but that only delayed the inevitable. Starting in the red zone for the second time in three possessions, Daniel needed just one play to find Robinson over the top of cornerback Gareon Conley for a touchdown. The Bears had erased a 17-point deficit to take a 21-17 lead in less than a quarter.

The Raiders could easily have folded after that turn of events, but their returner Trevor Davis sparked some life in them with a 52-yard return of his own. Five plays later, they were on the doorstep of a touchdown with a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. And Davis looked like he would finish the drive he started, catching a swing pass and running to the brink of the goal line. But safety Sherrick McManis fought off of his blocker and punched the ball out just before Davis could cross the plane, a near 20% GWC swing in favor of the Bears.

They Bears were still pinned close to their own end zone, but Daniel made his best throw of the day on a third-and-8 that Robinson somehow pulled in for a 32-yard catch on the right sideline while being sandwiched by safeties Karl Joseph and Erik Harris.

Daniel nearly erased his excellent efforts when pressure caused him to sail a pass over Cohen into the hands of Bears cornerback Daryl Worley, but that interception was erased by a dubious roughing the passer penalty on a perfect-form sack by Maurice Hurst.

The Bears managed just one more first down on the drive, but it was enough to create a complete reversal of field position that pinned the Raiders back at their own 3-yard line with 7:49 left in the game. And they seemed poised to hand the ball back to their offense after a three-and-out when Jon Gruden ran a fake punt from his own 27-yard line that Harris converted for a new first down. Coaches seldom risk a turnover on downs so deep in their own territory, but the GWC model loved Gruden's aggressive decision, increasing his GWC by 3.8% over a punt. The referees called the play a fumble on the field that the Bears recovered in position to seal the game with a short touchdown drive, but the review confirmed Harris was down before the ball came loose.

That one play was a massive win for the Raiders, but it still left them on their own 31-yard line, down four points with 5:35 remaining with less than a 1-in-4 chance to win. But Carr converted an ensuing third-and-1 with a short pass to an uncovered Foster Moreau, who turned a 1-yard catch into a 23-yard gain in the open field. Two players later, Carr found slot man Hunter Renfrow, who broke a tackle to gain 12 yards. Two plays after that, Carr hit Moreau again on a 16-yard dime that advanced the Raiders to the 2-yard line at the two-minute warning. Jacobs took the next play for his second rushing touchdown of the day, putting the Raiders back up by three with 1:57 left for the Bears to try to advance.

Mitchell Trubisky famously came through in a similar spot in Denver in Week 2, but for his replacement Daniel, it was not to be. He started the Bears' final drive nicely with 17- and 5-yard strikes to Robinson, but on a second-and-10 with 1:22 remaining, Daniel and receiver Anthony Miller suffered a critical miscommunication. Miller cut off his route early, and Daniel's pass fell softly into the hands of the cornerback Conley for an easy interception.

The Bears had two timeouts to stop the clock on a pair of Jacobs runs, but they couldn't stop the third one. Jacobs didn't earn the first down, but the Bears were left with just 13 seconds after the punt. Three plays later and with the full length of the field still to go, Daniel was sacked as time expired.

For most teams, a loss with a backup quarterback would be forgivable, but the Bears were already the No. 26 DVOA offense with Trubisky under center. Their defense seemed like it would be enough to silence the Raiders, but it wasn't, and that puts the Bears in a tough spot a game back of the Packers in what may be the best division in football, the NFC North. And coming out of a Week 6 bye, their schedule becomes incredibly daunting with games against the Saints, Chargers, Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, and Chiefs in addition to several against their various division rivals. They have the second-hardest remaining schedule. Only the Seahawks have it worse.

The Raiders, in contrast, are looking up. Their first-month DVOA was uninspiring, but their resulting 3-2 record is much more appealing in an AFC West with both the Chargers and Broncos underperforming out of the gate. This win nearly doubled their playoff chances to 36.0%, 6.4% better than the Bears.

Bills at Titans

I was surprised to see Josh Allen active for this game, a week removed from the jarring helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him out of his team's Week 4 loss to the Patriots. No doubt the Bills were thrilled to have him back, facing another top-12 DVOA pass defense and this time on the road in Tennessee. With the Bills' own exceptional defense -- No. 4 in overall defensive DVOA -- this game was destined to be a battle of field goals. And it was. Titans' kicker Cairo Santos missed all four of his field goal tries, turning what simple math would suggest would be a five-point victory into a seven-point loss. The most egregious of those misses was a second-quarter shank from 36 yards that left the Titans trailing 7-0 at the half.

But the Titans tied the game in the third quarter after Kevin Byard made a spectacular diving interception that set up Marcus Mariota with a short field.

Running back Derrick Henry grabbed nearly half of the 38 yards the Titans needed after he broke through tackles at the line of scrimmage and again 7 yards downfield en route to a 17-yard gainer. And two plays after a Mariota diving touchdown scramble was overturned on replay, Henry punctuated the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

On their next drive, the Titans had a chance to pull ahead on a third-and-11 inside the red zone. Mariota kept the play alive, dancing around in the pocket and finally taking off to run. But just before he hit the open field, he pulled up and hit receiver A.J. Brown for the touchdown. The replay showed that Mariota released the pass with his foot on the line of scrimmage, which should have made it a legal forward pass. However, the referees ruled the pass illegal, costing the Titans what would likely would have been a difference-making score.

Santos still had a chance to give the Titans the lead with a 33-yard field goal attempt, but I already spoiled how that attempt would go. He actually looked to have it on line, but it was tipped by defender Darryl Johnson and fell out of the sky well short of the crossbar.

The Bills quickly took advantage of their good defensive fortunes, with Allen turning a 6-yard scramble and slide into 21 yards with a roughing the passer penalty and Isaiah McKenzie taking a shovel pass 46 yards down the right sideline.

Allen capped the drive on third-and-3, faking a handoff and hitting Duke Williams as he streaked across the middle of the end zone. The Bills had regained their seven-point lead, and despite the near 10 minutes left of game clock, that would be all the cushion their defense needed.

Mariota, Henry, and a horse-collar tackle combined to get the next Titans drive across midfield, but they stalled at a fourth-and-4 at the Bills' 35-yard line. Not even considering Santos' early-game struggles, the GWC model preferred either a pass (20.5% GWC) or a run (18.3%) over a 53-yard field goal try (17.6%) that at best would have left the Titans still down four points. But the Titans opted to try the kick, and you can guess how that turned out.

A Bills three-and-out returned the ball to the Titans with 5:27 left in the quarter, plenty of time to mount another comeback drive. But they went three-and-out as well, and the Bills ran for three consecutive first downs to take the game to the two-minute warning. Frank Gore used up the Titans' last two timeouts with 4- and 3-yard runs on first and second down, and then Allen sealed the game with a third-down conversion on a fake handoff where he rolled left and found open field.

The Bills are the bizarro Bears, avoiding a Week 5 loss in a close game to improve their record to 4-1 and enjoying the third-easiest remaining schedule. The only bad news for the Bills is that their division-rival Patriots are 5-0 with a similarly easy remaining schedule (No. 27). But even with playoff odds carried almost entirely by their wild-card chances, the Bills are up to a 67.3% chance to make the postseason.

The Titans are just one game back in their division as well, but all three of the Texans, Colts, and Jaguars in the AFC South are playoff threats. Already 0-2 in the division and with just the third best DAVE of that foursome, the Titans slip to an 18.1% playoff chance with the loss.

Cardinals at Bengals

There were no concerns of playoff odds in this one. Entering Week 5, the Cardinals and Bengals had zero wins and one tie between them. But just because no one was watching doesn't mean these two teams couldn't play a compelling game.

When the Cardinals scored their second touchdown to extend their lead to 23-9 with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter, that didn't look likely to happen. They enjoyed a 97.5% GWC at the time. But Andy Dalton marched the Bengals downfield with eight completions on nine pass attempts on the ensuing 10-play drive that took just 3:05 to execute. Following an Auden Tate touchdown and Randy Bullock extra point, the Bengals were down seven points with 4:08 remaining, and their defense forced a three-and-out thanks to tight coverage from Dre Kirkpatrick and B.W. Webb on passes to KeeSean Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Those incompletions stopped the clock and limited the Cardinals drive to just 27 seconds, leaving ample time for the Bengals to go the length of the field and tie the game with a touchdown.

The Bengals real problem was they had too much time. On first down, Dalton connected with Boyd just short of the markers, but Boyd avoided a tackle from Jordan Hicks and cut upfield for 29 yards. It's anyone's guess why the Cardinals had a linebacker in coverage against the Bengals' only healthy weapon at receiver. They did better two plays later putting safety Budda Baker on him, but that didn't stop Boyd from coming free over the top and catching a 42-yard teardrop from Dalton for a game-tying touchdown.

That drive took just four plays and 101 seconds, leaving the Cardinals a full two minutes to score any points for a win. David Johnson took a carry up the middle for 8 yards and then snagged a 24-yard catch down the left sideline. Johnson juggled that catch but was able to secure it just before he stepped out, advancing the Cardinals into Bengals territory with 1:26 remaining.

A 4-yard Chase Edmonds run got the Cardinals inside the 40-yard line and within a few yards of the edge of kicker Zane Gonzalez's field goal range. But Kyler Murray ended any concerns for his kicker's range, scrambling and dodging tackles for 24 yards to the Bengals' 15.

The Bengals stopped the clock there, but they had already used a second-half timeout on the Cardinals' previous possession. They had no way to save clock for another drive for their offense. Instead, they used their last timeout to try to ice Gonzalez on his 31-yard attempt, but it did not work. He split the uprights as time expired to give the Cardinals a three-point win, their first of the season.

Already with their franchise quarterback in place, the Cardinals are motivated to win as much as they can. That makes this an exciting result, even if it is unlikely to dramatically improve their No. 30 DVOA against an even worse Bengals team. In some ways, the Bengals are more interesting. They entered this week with a -51.4% DVOA that was markedly worse than every team other than the tanking Dolphins, and they fell to 0-5, missing out on one of their few winnable home games. Injuries sabotaged what could have been a competitive Bengals roster, but now that they have fallen below a 1% chance of making the playoffs, perhaps they will become sellers. No doubt many playoff teams would love to have A.J. Green once he returns from his ankle injury, and with all of the quarterback injuries across the league, several might also be interested in Dalton. That seems like the best long-term decision for a team in need of a rebuild.

Comments

2 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2019, 3:56pm

1 Carr Fumble

"But they didn't need pass pressure to take advantage of a bizarre Derek Carr fumble -- the quarterback threw a full-speed pitch way past Jacobs, who was only a few feet behind him."

Not sure who to assign that to. It looked like the offensive line was either blocking outside zone or a sweep, and I would put my faith in Carr getting the play right over the rookie running back Jacobs. Still, not a good look either way for the Raiders.

2 Re: Carr

In reply to by theTDC

Yeah, I expect you're right about who is to blame there, but regardless, it was a strange and funny scene.