Tipping Points: Week 6
by Scott Spratt
A one-sided Thursday night Patriots win over the Giants and a Sunday morning (in America) Panthers win over the Buccaneers made for a slow start to Week 6. But four of the five 1 p.m. ET games finished with a one-score margin and provide as many entries in this week's Tipping Points.
Game of the Week
Seahawks at Browns
In a 1 p.m. ET window full of appealing games, the Seahawks-Browns matchup stood out quickly when Browns returner Dontrell Hilliard took the opening kickoff 74 yards and set his team up with a short field.
From there, the Browns needed just four plays to reach the end zone. And after the Seahawks and Browns traded two more touchdowns to make the score 14-6 with Cleveland in the lead and barely 10 minutes gone in the game, I had dreams of a back-and-forth, 80-point affair.
That excitement gave way to fear for a blow-out when the Browns stretched their lead to 20-6 at the start of the second quarter. The Browns could seemingly do no wrong. First, three weeks removed from their failed attempt on a fourth-and-9 -- which EdjSports' Game-Winning Chance (GWC) model would have supported with a better play call -- the Browns tried again on a fourth-and-7. This time, Baker Mayfield threw past the sticks and connected with Jarvis Landry for 27 yards. That decision to pass improved their GWC -- by 0.6% versus a long field goal try and 2.4% versus a punt -- and led to a touchdown two plays later.
The Browns needed just three plays in total to punch in their third score. From their own 17-yard line, Nick Chubb broke free for a 52-yard run that again showcased remarkable speed for a 227-pound power back.
The next play, Mayfield enjoyed a rare clean pocket that allowed him time to run through his progressions and find tight end Ricky Seals-Jones open down the right sideline. Seals-Jones broke the plane of the end zone a step before a trio of Seahawks defenders could converge on his location.
Opposite the Browns' touchdown barrage, the Seahawks were almost as effective moving the ball on offense. They enjoyed seven- and nine-play drives on their second and third possessions, but the former ended in a punt and latter ended in a field goal that in a way was much worse. From a third-and-8 from the edge of the red zone, Russell Wilson threw to the back left corner of the end zone, trying to lead his tight end and second-favorite target Will Dissly away from the coverage. But Dissly had to cut sharply to make a play on the ball, and his Achilles gave out on the play. He was on crutches in the locker room after the game and seems likely to miss the back-half of the season for the second time in his two-year career.
But as September seemingly taught us, the Browns could not handle their prosperity for long. Mayfield threw a pair of would-be first-down passes that hit Antonio Callaway and Odell Beckham in the hands, but Shaquill Griffin dislodged the former and Beckham dropped the latter to force a fourth down and the Browns' first punt of the afternoon. It didn't go well for them.
David Moore's punt block started the Seahawks drive in the red zone, and they advanced as far as a third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. But Wilson couldn't connect with Jaron Brown and the Seahawks kicked the short field goal. A pass would have improved their GWC by 3.9% compared to the field goal try, but perhaps Pete Carroll had a sense that the Browns were not done making mistakes. And in fact, the Seahawks defense ended the next two Browns possessions with interceptions, two of Mayfield's total of three picks on the day.
The Seahawks offense again failed to capitalize on the second turnover, but the third time was the charm. With 1:28 left in the half, Wilson orchestrated an eight-play, 88-yard drive that Brown this time secured with a 17-yard touchdown catch. That cut the deficit to 20-18 at the half.
That was still the score 9:06 left in the third quarter when Chubb made a tough catch of a second-and-20 screen pass in heavy traffic. He had a couple of blockers and could have advanced into a manageable third down, but pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah made a tremendous hustle play to reach him and punched the ball loose. After a couple of wild bounces, the ball hopped onto the chest of Ansah, thrown to his back by the contact.
The fumble recovery set the Seahawks up with another short field, their third in their last five possessions. It still took them seven plays, but they converted the touchdown and took the lead, 25-20. And after a three-and-out returned the ball to their offense, the Seahawks had a chance to stretch that lead to multiple scores. Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett, and Brown each contributed moderate gains that advanced the Seahawks past midfield, but then they turned it over. C.J. Prosise, in an increased role with normal second running back Rashaad Penny sidelined with a hamstring injury, ran into a wall of defenders trying to convert on a third-and-1. Browns pass-rusher Olivier Vernon forced the fumble.
A roughing the passer penalty and 8-yard Chubb gain quickly advanced the Browns from midfield to the Seahawks' 22 at the start of the fourth quarter. Hilliard converted a fourth-and-3 at the Seahawks' 23-yard line, stretching out just enough to move the sticks -- a 1.3% GWC boost over a field goal attempt -- but then the Browns found themselves in another fourth down, 1 yard away from the end zone. Landry caught a pass short of the goal line and tried to reach the ball out over the plane. Instead, he reached the ball into the side of linebacker Bobby Wagner, forcing his own fumble.
The Browns recovered the ball in the end zone, but on fourth down it would have returned to the spot of the fumble, resulting in a turnover on downs. However, the Browns earned a mulligan courtesy of too many men on the field for the Seahawks. This time, Freddie Kitchens called for a run, but even the powerful Chubb couldn't push past the seven white jerseys that crowded his approach on the right side of the line. He was stopped, and the Seahawks regained possession.
Backed up to their own goal line, the Seahawks weren't completely out of trouble. Their 76.4% GWC eroded to 66.4% when they lost a yard on their first three plays of that next possession. That forced them to try to punt from their own 1-yard line. With less of a buffer than would be typical for a punter, Michael Dickson cut his routine to a single step and kick. He got the punt away over the outstretched hand of Pharaoh Brown, but he shanked it off the side of his foot. It fell out of bounds just 23 yards downfield, setting up the Browns up with yet another short field.
Chubb wouldn't be denied this time. He dodged five potential tacklers to take the first play of the drive 21 yards, and then he scored a touchdown on the next play.
Mayfield evaded a rusher and found Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion, and suddenly the Browns were back on top, 28-25 with 8:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. After peaking at more than a 3-in-4 chance of winning, the Seahawks were down to a 39.9% GWC. But rookie receiver DK Metcalf sparked an extended drive to answer, coming down with two feet just inside the boundary for 12 yards and a first down.
Five plays and three penalties later, Carson barreled up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, putting the Seahawks back up 32-28.
That four-point margin left the Browns needing a touchdown, but with 3:30 remaining, Mayfield had plenty of time to go the length of the field. But that mandate became much more difficult when an offensive holding penalty on Greg Robinson backed them up to a first-and-20 from their 15-yard line. Two plays later, Mayfield hit Hilliard in the hands, but the receiver failed to catch the pass. Instead, his momentum redirected the ball to defender K.J. Wright, who made the easy interception and fell to the ground.
The Browns had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to try to get another crack at a game-winning drive. But Wilson converted on a third-and-7 pass to Metcalf on the left sidelines through tight coverage from T.J. Carrie, and the Carson pushed the pile across the line to gain on a third-and-1. The Seahawks were 3 yards away from another touchdown, but with just 50 seconds remaining, the simply took two knees to end the game.
The Browns outproduced the Seahawks on the day, 6.7 yards per play to 6.1, but mistakes did them in. The three Mayfield interceptions will draw the headlines, especially now that he leads the NFL with 11 on the season (despite Jameis Winston's best London efforts), but at most, only one of those was his fault. The Browns mistakes pervade their entire roster, from skill players fumbling and deflecting passes into interceptions to linemen and defenders drawing penalties. Their 57 on the season are tied with the Falcons for the most in football. The loss was a big blow to the Browns' playoff chances, dropping them from a 32.4% to a 21.6% postseason chance and landing them third of the AFC North teams behind the 4-2 Ravens and also 2-4 Steelers.
The Seahawks improve to 5-1, but they needed the win about as badly to avoid falling further behind the undefeated division rival 49ers. Those two top-tier teams don't face off until Week 10, and chances are decent their two head-to-head games could determine which one earns a bye.
The Best of the Rest
Texans at Chiefs
The Texans and Chiefs didn't surrender their predicted billing as the game of the week lightly. Certainly, their MVP-candidate quarterbacks did their parts, especially in the first half. On the first play from scrimmage, Patrick Mahomes unloaded a 50-yard pass that fell one step too far in front of newly healthy receiver Tyreek Hill on what had a chance to be a 91-yard touchdown reception. But Mahomes got his 50-yard gainer just two plays later when the Texans neglected to cover running back Damien Williams on a wheel route. And then any fears of rustiness between quarterback and receiver were erased when Mahomes threw deep on a free play on third-and-21 and the 5-foot-11 Hill elevated over 6-foot-1 safety Justin Reid to catch a 46-yard touchdown.
Mahomes led the Chiefs to 17 points on the Chiefs first three possessions, the second of which came after Carlos Hyde ran the Texans' first offensive play straight into the back of his own offensive lineman, fumbling and setting up the Chiefs offense in the red zone.
The Texans did what you rarely can get away with against the explosive Chiefs offense, turning the ball over and then settling for a field goal at the end of a 12-play drive. But the Chiefs made a series of uncharacteristic offensive miscues on their last three drives of the first half. First, Mahomes airmailed a pass intended for Byron Pringle into the hands of safety Tashaun Gipson for his first interception of the season. Mahomes may have thought he had another free play, but the referees overturned their initial call of a defensive pass interference of tight end Travis Kelce since Kelce was not the intended receiver. Second, kicker Harrison Butker missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right, just his fourth miss from 50-plus yards in 10 career tries. And third, Mahomes took a killer strip-sack from his own 20-yard line with just 32 seconds left in the half. Simply taking a knee there would have conserved the Chiefs' one-point advantage, but starting just 3 yards out from the end zone, Watson scrambled in for a quick touchdown to give his Texans a 23-17 lead at the half.
Like the Browns, the Chiefs outgained their opponent, 6.6 yards per play to 5.7, but they couldn't overcome their mistakes because of a lack of opportunities. The Texans didn't always strike paydirt -- and failed again on their first and second drives of the second half, which ended in a missed field goal and an interception -- but they ran a lot of plays and killed a lot of clock. After their first-play turnover and excluding the one-play drive Watson took in for a touchdown at the end of the first half, the Texans ran between seven and 12 plays on each of their other eight drives. They controlled the ball for 39:48 and limited the Chiefs to 16 total plays on just three second-half drives.
Surrounded by successful-but-unspectacular gains, Hyde redeemed his first-play fumble with a 26-yard carry through the teeth of the Chiefs' No. 30 DVOA run defense.
The Chiefs allowed 192 rushing yards at 4.7 yards per carry for the game, the biggest contributor to their lack of offensive opportunities. You can't victimize an offensive line that entered the game allowing pressure on 34.8% of dropbacks -- fourth-most in football according to Sports Info Solutions (subscription required) -- if you can't force the Texans into obvious passing situations. The Chiefs defense forced just five third downs out of 42 second-half plays, and only one of them was longer than a third-and-5.
The Hyde carry aside, it's difficult to highlight individual Texans plays from the third and fourth quarters. They impressed because of their game plan and relentless execution. Watson made one significant mistake, trying to force a fade to a double-covered DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone at the end of the third quarter. Cornerback Charvarius Ward fended off Hopkins' defensive efforts to secure the interception and touchback that cut the Texans' GWC to a second-half nadir of 32.5%.
But the entire fourth quarter was a slow and steady climb of Texans GWC that culminated in a nine-play drive in which Watson extinguished the final five minutes of game clock before taking a knee. The Chiefs would likely have made the ending more climactic had they been successful on their challenge of an uncalled defensive pass interference penalty on cornerback Lonnie Johnson, who climbed over Travis Kelce's back to prevent a third-down conversion. But there was little reason to except that success, pass interference or not. Between Week 3 and the Thursday night game five days ago, only one of 21 challenged defensive pass interference calls were reversed on replay. Anecdotally, that has seemed to be the overturn rate all season.
The Chiefs' defensive shortcomings have to be frustrating for Andy Reid, who fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and hired Steve Spagnuolo to try to fix the Chiefs' last-place run defense from 2018. Now 4-2, the Chiefs are just one game ahead of the surprising Raiders in the AFC West and behind the Patriots, Bills, and Texans in the race for the two AFC byes. The Texans, in contrast, pull half a game ahead of the idle Colts, whom they play in Indianapolis in Week 7 with first place in the AFC South on the line.
Redskins at Dolphins
With the NFL's other top prize -- the first pick in the 2020 draft -- on the line, the Redskins and Dolphins squared off in the bizarro game of the day. And as unbelievable as it was to have the winless Redskins favored by more than a touchdown on the road, Las Vegas looked prescient as the Redskins entered the fourth quarter with a 17-3 lead and attempting a 55-yard field goal that would have stretched the advantage to three scores.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins pushed that attempt just wide of the right upright, and the Dolphins returned their offense to the field with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, less than a week after head coach Brian Flores declared that Josh Rosen would be his starter for the rest of the season. With just a 4.8% GWC to start the final period, Flores may have thought his team had secured that important loss in the race for Tua Tagovailoa. Perhaps now he is a believer in FitzMagic.
Between a pair of strong Kenyan Drake runs, Fitzpatrick hit receiver Albert Wilson and running back Mark Walton with quick passes that they stretched to 8 and 18 yards with runs after the catch. Walton in particular showed a nice burst on a team desperate for players with long-term potential. He has clearly passed 2018 fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage on the depth chart, playing 32 offensive snaps this week versus just four for Ballage.
Now in the red zone, Fitzpatrick threw another catch-and-run pass, this time to Drake for 9 yards. A defensive holding penalty advanced the Dolphins to a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and after falling head over heels just short of the plane on first down, Ballage breached the middle of the line for a touchdown, cutting the Redskins lead in half.
Redskins quarterback Case Keenum took the next snap from his own 23-yard line with 10:49 of clock left to kill. He threw a perfect strike to his star rookie receiver Terry McLaurin streaking 25 yards down the field toward the left sideline, but McLaurin dropped the pass.
It is tough to be critical of McLaurin, who had already scored both of the team's touchdowns and accounted for more than 60% of team's passing yards for the day. But his drop did lead to a three-and-out that returned the ball to Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins with 9:48 left to try to tie the game.
But the aggressive Fitzpatrick wasn't interested in taking his time. He aired out the Dolphins' first play on that next drive 21 yards down the field. The pass was high, but it's difficult to overthrow 6-foot-5 rookie Preston Williams, who elevated to make the catch. That advanced the ball to midfield, and the Dolphins were well-positioned to enter field goal range when Fitzpatrick threw a third-and-5 pass to tight end Mike Gesicki. But safety Troy Apke shoved Gesicki to the turf before he could make a catch.
That contact was beyond the 5-yard buffer for illegal contact, but no penalty was called, and the Dolphins were forced to punt the ball back to the Redskins with 7:51 remaining. On the ensuing third-and-3, it looked like the football gods might repay the Dolphins with a pick-six. Keenum spun twice to extend the play, but linebacker Vince Biegel hit him as he threw. The pass fluttered short of the line scrimmage and, fortunately for the Redskins, short of a pair of Dolphins defenders.
Another punt returned the ball to Fitzpatrick with 6:28 remaining, but again the Dolphins failed to score points. This drive nearly ended in disaster on a third-and-9 when center Daniel Kilgore snapped the ball into the turf, sending it careening past Fitzpatrick. A pair of Redskins pass-rushers were in the backfield almost immediately, but Drake saved the Dolphins' hopes of a win by falling on the loose ball. They still had to punt, but the Dolphins at least pushed the Redskins back to their own 1-yard line instead of giving them the ball in range of a field goal that would have extended their lead to two scores.
Coming off of their back-to-back three-and-outs and backed up against their own end zone, the Redskins fared better on their third fourth-quarter drive. On second-and-10, Keenum dropped a perfect pass into the hands of McLaurin cutting to the right sidelines on a mirror-image play of the pass he had dropped two drives earlier. That 32-yard reception gave the Redskins some breathing room, which allowed Adrian Peterson to carry the ball twice for another first down and use up a pair of the Dolphins' timeouts. At third-and-5 with 2:15 left in the quarter, the Redskins were a conversion away from extinguishing the Dolphins' maybe-hopes entirely. But instead, Keenum threw back shoulder to Paul Richardson, who never pulled off of his go route. The incompletion stopped the clock, and a punt offered the Dolphins one last chance to erase their seven-point deficit with 2:02 and one timeout remaining.
After the two-minute warning, Fitzpatrick squeezed a 30-yard pass between a high safety and low linebacker. Gesicki leapt and spun backward to make an incredible catch.
Fitzpatrick overthrew Williams out of bounds down the left sideline but checked down to Drake for 8 yards and then scrambled 5 yards for a first down to keep the drive alive. He completed 11- and 10-yard passes to Allen Hurns and then Williams, but neither receiver could make it out of bounds. The Dolphins stopped the clock with 26 seconds after the former with the final timeout, but Fitzpatrick had to spike the ball to preserve 10 seconds of clock after the latter. That left the Dolphins with time for just two shots in the end zone, but Fitzpatrick only needed one. He stepped confidently into a pass despite a Redskins blitz and found DeVante Parker a step clear of cornerback Josh Norman for a touchdown.
Conventional wisdom suggested that the Dolphins would kick the extra point and try to win their first game in overtime. So Flores deserves a lot of credit for going for two and the win in regulation, increasing his GWC from 41.1% to 48.6%. Fitzpatrick threw a quick screen to Drake, who had a couple of blockers that could have helped him find the end zone if he could escape the unblocked linebacker Ryan Anderson. But perhaps because of Anderson's proximity, Drake dropped the pass, ending the Dolphins' improbable comeback attempt with a whimper.
Drake shouldered the blame for the loss in a post-game interview, but when all is said and done, Dolphins fans will likely be glad he avoided a win that could cost them in their ultimate goal to rebuild their roster with premium draft picks. But with remaining games against the Steelers, Giants, Bengals, and two against the Jets, it may be difficult for the Dolphins to remain winless all season. The Redskins' decision to fire Jay Gruden suggests they weren't tanking this season, at least not intentionally. With their franchise quarterback hopefully secured in rookie Dwayne Haskins, the Redskins are likely happy with the win, however uninspiring it looked in the process.
Falcons at Cardinals
Entering the season, I would not have predicted that the Falcons' and Cardinals' Week 6 game would be as meaningless for playoff positioning as the one between the Redskins and Dolphins. But with just two wins and a tie between them, the Falcons and Cardinals each started the week with less than a 5% chance to reach the postseason. At least they played an exciting game.
The Falcons started strong with a 10-play, 80-yard opening drive that ended in a touchdown. But as has come to be their 2019 tradition, they fell behind by multiple scores at halftime and had to rely on quarterback Matt Ryan to try to catch up. Down 27-10 with 11:25 left in the third quarter, Ryan led an eight-play drive with 20- and 15-yard completions to receiver Julio Jones and tight end Austin Hooper, both surrounded by multiple Cardinals defenders. Ryan overthrew an open Calvin Ridley on the 10-yard line, but that still enabled a 44-yard Matt Bryant field goal that cut the Falcons' deficit to two touchdowns.
An illegal block penalty on Larry Fitzgerald cut the Cardinals ensuing drive short after five plays, but a similar penalty on the Falcons pushed their subsequent drive back to their own 7-yard line. They were in serious danger on a third-and-1 from their 16, but the Falcons opened their bag of tricks. They snapped the ball directly to receiver Mohamed Sanu, who handed the ball to Devonta Freeman to gain 14 yards through a big hole on the left side of the line.
Ryan followed that big run with four consecutive big passes, gaining 12, 22, 12, and 11 yards with completions to Hooper, Hooper, Ridley, and Freeman. Inside the red zone, Ryan needed just 6- and 7-yard quick strikes to Russell Gage and Freeman to score another touchdown and cut the deficit to a single score.
The Cardinals started the fourth quarter with a third-and-1 hand-off to David Johnson, but linebacker Deion Jones met him in the backfield and forced a fourth-down punt. And the closer score did nothing to slow down the hot Falcons' offense. Off a pair of play-action fakes, Ryan found a wide-open Ridley for 23 yards and then threw across the field to Hooper, who tracked the catch over the top of his head for another 30.
A second-and-10 hands to the face penalty gave the Falcons another first down from the 9-yard line, and a modest Ito Smith run and a short Ryan pass to Hooper was enough to tie the game.
After hemorrhaging a 17-point lead in 15:35 of game clock, the Cardinals were in desperate need of a sustained drive. And that looked like it might happen when Kyler Murray connected with Pharoh Cooper with room to run for a first down on a third-and-5. However, Cooper dropped the pass, ending the third consecutive Cardinals drive without an earned first down.
With yet another possession, Ryan looked poised to march downfield and take a lead. He used another play-action fake to buy time for Julio Jones to get open for a 17-yard reception. But after a run for no gain and an incompletion, Ryan faced a third-and-10 from his 31-yard line. The Cardinals sent just four, but edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Chandler Jones overpowered their blockers and met at Ryan. Sandwiched between a pair of defenders, Ryan fumbled. His lineman Jamon Brown recovered, but the Falcons were forced to punt.
With 7:27 remaining and defending a cold Cardinals offense, the Falcons remained well-positioned to complete their comeback. But third-string punter Kasey Redfern, playing in place of Matt Bosher and Matt Wile because of their respective groin and quad injuries, punted short. The returner Cooper had to charge forward 10 yards to try to make a fair catch, and in so doing, he collided with the Falcons' Sharrod Neasman. That was a 15-yard fair catch interference penalty that set the Cardinals up in Falcons' territory.
After one first down, Kyler Murray rolled right and tucked the ball to run. Pass-rusher Vic Beasley caught him at the line of scrimmage, but his tackle pulled Murray down by the collar and created a 15-yard penalty. Now in the red zone, Johnson provided 5 yards on the ground and an incredible 14 yards through the air to score a go-ahead touchdown.
The Falcons took a touchback with 5:12 to try to answer, and Ryan looked like he would only need a fraction of that. He connected with Sanu for 15 yards on the first play of the drive, and then he found Jones for 22 more. Freeman took a pair of carries up the middle for 9 and 5 yards and another first down, and then backfield teammate Smith added another one after a 9-yard Sanu catch-and-run. The Falcons were already at the Cardinals' 12-yard line at the two-minute warning. The Cardinals blitzed to try to knock the Falcons back, but Ryan floated a pass to Freeman on a de facto screen pass, and Freeman dashed untouched into the right side of the end zone. An extra point would tie the game and, with just 1:53 remaining and the Cardinals down to just one timeout, likely force an overtime. But Bryant ended the excitement abruptly, yanking the extra point wide of the left upright.
The Falcons had a couple of timeouts to try to earn their offense another chance. But on third-and-5, Murray rolled right. His path to a first down was crowded with three defenders, but blocking-specialist tight end Maxx Williams took out all three of them with an incredible effort.
Even with Williams' heroic efforts, Murray's scamper stopped close to the line to gain. But after a review, the first-down ruling stood, and the Cardinals could kneel to close out their second victory.
Coming off a dreadful No. 32 ranked DVOA season, the Cardinals' 2-3-1 start is encouraging, even if it fails to make a dent in what may be the best division in football alongside the Super Bowl runner-up Rams, the 5-1 Seahawks, and 5-0 49ers. The Falcons' division seemed much more winnable, especially after Drew Brees and Cam Newton went down a few games into the season. But the Saints' and Panthers' backup passers, Teddy Bridgewater and Kyle Allen, are a combined 8-0, and the Falcons are now four and three games behind those teams in the NFC South and likely done for the season.
Saints at Jaguars
Speaking of those Saints, they continued to impress with their defense in Week 6, this time in a difficult road game in Jacksonville. After allowing at least 6.5 yards per play in each of the first three weeks, the Saints defense has held three straight opponents to fewer than 5.0 yards per play. That improvement (coupled with increasing DVOA opponent adjustments that suggest the Saints' to-date schedule against the Texans, Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys, Buccaneers, and Jaguars has been very difficult) has buoyed their defense to a No. 14 DVOA ranking.
You likely had to be a defensive connoisseur to enjoy the first half of this game. Apart from a pair of field goals, one each from the Saints and Jaguars, the two teams traded 10 other drives that maxed out at eight plays and 28 yards. Even the Saints field goal drive was a grueling seven-play, 8-yard affair. But things perked up in the second half when Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew led receiver DJ Chark on a pass that Chark held up on. Cornerback Marson Lattimore made the pick, Minshew's first as a starter this season.
Two plays later, Bridegwater hit running back Latavius Murray on a screen pass. Murray broke one tackle and then weaved 42 yards down the left sideline for what would have been a back-breaking touchdown. But instead, it was called back on an offensive holding penalty. Bridgewater came close to an encore touchdown after a pair of short second-down conversions advanced the Saints to a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line. But there, he overthrew Michael Thomas, who had room to make the catch and get into the end zone, and the Saints settled for a field goal and a 6-3 lead.
Minshew started the Jaguars' next possession firing, first missing on an intermediate out to Chark but then hitting Chark for 9 yards and Dede Westbrook for 23. Leonard Fournette gave the Jaguars another first down with three carries that netted 25 yards, but on third-and-2 from the Saints' 10, Minshew double-clutched and took a Cameron Jordan sack. That ended the Jaguars' touchdown bid and gave them another field goal, retying the game at 6-6.
The Saints started their subsequent drive with an offensive holding penalty that put them in a first-and-20. That normally would have been the death of his short-striking offense, but Bridgewater surprised with a 13-air-yard pass to Thomas, who turned upfield and doubled the yardage. A pair of Alvin Kamara runs netted another first down and advanced the Saints to midfield, and then Murray crossed it with a 4-yard gain that ended the third quarter. On third-and-6 and still a few yards outside of field goal range at the Jaguars' 44, gadget quarterback Taysom Hill took a designed run to the left sideline, where he turned a corner and plowed through an attempted tackle for 19 yards.
He had less success from the 8-yard line, losing 5 yards on a first-and-goal attempt. But Bridgewater got that back and more with a quick slant to Thomas for 9 yards. And then on third down from the 4-yard line, Bridgewater threw his best pass of the day, intentionally high to the back of the end zone where only his tight end Jared Cook could make the catch over the top of free safety Jarod Wilson.
The Jaguars started the next drive with almost 12 minutes of game clock remaining, plenty of time for a touchdown drive. But as had been the case all day, they failed to consistently move the ball against the Saints defense. They advanced to their 42-yard line thanks to a Demario Davis roughing the passer penalty, but their own offensive holding penalty put them in a first-and-18 that became a third-and-18 after two incompletions. Minshew rolled left away from the Saints pass rush to find Seth DeValve, but the tight end was tackled 2 yards shy of the line to gain. In no man's land at the Saints' 40-yard line, the Jaguars went for it, but Minshew airmailed a pass to Chris Conley and returned the ball to the Saints on downs.
After trading three-and-outs, the Saints took possession at their 40 with 6:09 of clock to kill. And kill it they did. Kamara ran up the middle for 6 yards, and then Thomas stutter-stepped around linebacker Najee Goode for a first down. Murray carried for 6 and then 3 yards up the middle, and then on third-and-1, Bridgewater floated a first-down completion to Cook over an all-out Jaguars blitz.
Having already burned two of the Jaguars' three timeouts and with just 2:32 left in the game, the Saints needed just one more first down to seal it. Murray did the bulk of that work with a first-down carry of 9 yards that took them to the two-minute warning. Bridgewater picked up the remaining inches on a quarterback sneak, allowing him to end the game by taking a knee.
The Saints could hardly have hoped for a better outcome than four straight wins with their backup quarterback. Their defensive improvements should leave the team in good hands even if Drew Brees cannot return on his aggressive self-imposed timeline. Minshew has been impressive in relief of Nick Foles, as well, but three one-score losses to the Texans, Panthers, and Saints have dropped the Jaguars to 2-4, two games behind the Texans and one behind the Colts in the AFC South. Matchups with the underwhelming Bengals and Jets the next two weeks could return them to .500, but the Jaguars will likely need to take down their division rivals in the second half to secure a playoff berth.