Tipping Points: Week 9
by Scott Spratt
London game aside, every home team won on Sunday. You might think that made for a boring week, but compelling performances from backup quarterbacks made for three close fourth quarters in Week 9. But none of them provided a better rollercoaster than Tampa Bay and Seattle.
Game of the Week
Buccaneers at Seahawks
By DVOA, the Buccaneers and Seahawks game in Seattle had the look of a potential blowout. The Seahawks entered the week ninth overall and third on offense, with the midseason MVP in Russell Wilson to take advantage of a defense much weaker against the pass (No. 26 DVOA) than the run (No. 1). The Buccaneers, meanwhile, were just 18th in DVOA overall and 20th offensively. But it became apparent on the very first possession that Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, and the rest of the Seahawks secondary couldn't match up with massive No. 1 receiver Mike Evans, who caught 17- and 21-yard passes on the drive on the way to his final totals of 12 catches, 180 yards, and a touchdown. The Buccaneers went 75 yards in three and a half minutes and scored a touchdown, and then the Seahawks answered with 75 yards and a touchdown in three minutes and seven seconds. It looked like the first team to 40 points would win, and thanks to a missed kick and overtime, that proved to be the case.
Normally known for their mistakes, the Bucs played a clean first three quarters minus a missed 50-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half that kicker Matt Gay pulled, likely in an attempt to muscle it for the necessary distance. In contrast, the Seahawks missed a field goal and an extra point and fumbled twice. Chris Carson had played five clean games since he fumbled in each of the Seahawks' first three this season, but he lost the ball twice on Sunday. The first tumbled out of bounds early in the third quarter, but the second careened back in bounds with 11:42 left in the fourth, and safety Jordan Whitehead was able to corral it. That set the Bucs offense up inside of Seahawks territory, where any score would break their 24-24 tie.
Clearly, the Bucs couldn't handle the prosperity. After missing deep to Evans and then hitting Chris Godwin for 5 yards in the middle of the field, Jameis Winston wound up for a third-down pass when suddenly the ball wasn't there. None of the Seahawks defenders had struck the quarterback or the ball, but Winston still lost it, and before his arm had started forward to rule the play an incompletion. Instead, defensive lineman Rasheem Green scooped up the loose ball and ran 36 yards before Evans could trip him up from behind.
The Bucs defense deserves a ton of credit for limiting the damage to a Seahawks field goal. Wilson started the drive within 15 yards of the end zone, and two completions to Tyler Lockett later, they were in first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. That's where the Bucs stopped Carson at the line of scrimmage and broke up a pair of end zone passes, the first to rookie DK Metcalf and the second to David Moore. The Bucs likely heaved a sigh of relief when the Seahawks settled for a 22-yard field goal -- it was a 2.2% Game-Winning Chance (GWC) sacrifice over passing again on fourth down -- but Jason Myers did make it for a change.
A kickoff set the Bucs offense back up at their own 29 with 8:15 remaining, and Winston immediately threw the team into Seahawks territory with a quick strike to a shockingly uncovered Evans. Running back Ronald Jones -- finally asserting himself as the team's lead back with 18 carries compared to just four for Peyton Barber -- followed that with an excellent 15-yard run. Stonewalled on the left side of the line, he bounced to the right and proceeded to juke Griffin out of his shoes with a cut upfield.
Jones' relative success isn't new -- he has 5.7% DVOA on the season compared to -14.8% for Barber -- but the workload is, and it should help the Bucs improve over the second half of the season, albeit too late to make any sort of realistic playoff push.
Jones had less success on the ensuing first and second downs, gaining 4 and 0 yards and ceding third down to his quarterback. Winston threw that pass high and out of the reach of a well-covered Evans, which prompted a 45-yard field goal attempt that Gay split down the uprights.
After a touchback, the Seahawks took over on offense again deadlocked, this time at 27-27. And on second down, Wilson lobbed a pass to Lockett streaking across the middle of the field. With his exceptional speed, Lockett was able to turn upfield before he hit the left sidelines, converting what looked like a short gain into 17 yards. Like Evans, he was uncoverable on the day, finishing with 13 catches, 152 yards, and two touchdowns. But it was his rookie teammate Metcalf who punctuated the Seahawks' drive on the very next play. Carrying 23 more pounds than his defender Jamel Dean, Metcalf nevertheless outraced him to the right sideline. Wilson hit Metcalf perfectly in stride and led him to a 53-yard touchdown.
The Bucs had 4:25 to try to answer the score with a touchdown of their own, and Winston aided those efforts with a 12-yard completion to receiving back Dare Ogunbowale, then a 9-yard jump ball which Evans of course came down with before breaking free for an extra 14 yards of YAC. That advanced the Bucs to the Seahawks' 40-yard line, where Godwin took a jet sweep and shed an attempted tackle in the backfield, gaining 8 yards. But a stuffed run and an incompletion later, the Bucs faced a fourth-and-5 they had to convert. Winston made a tremendous play to escape the pocket from the Seahawks blitz, scrambling and sliding a yard past the line to gain.
Winston's quick decision and (somewhat) quick feet improved the Bucs' odds of completing a comeback by 10.4%, but they still needed to cover 30 yards in 1:18 to even tie the game. That become more likely when Seahawks' corner Jamar Taylor went for the interception instead of the tackle on a checkdown pass to Jones. Undeterred by the defensive effort, Jones doubled the 6 air yards with a run after the catch. And on a first-and-10 at the edge of the red zone, Winston found Evans again uncovered in the middle of the field. Evans dragged safety Marquise Blair for 4 yards before falling down at the 1-yard line. But with 48 seconds remaining, the Bucs could comfortably hand the ball off to Ogunbowale, who dove forward into the end zone.
Down a point with 46 seconds left, the Bucs had a choice. And that choice was more complicated than two points for the win and one point for the tie and overtime. The Jaguars and Broncos illustrated that complexity in similar situations in Week 2. The Jaguars failed to punch in their two-point attempt, and although the Broncos did, that forced their opponent, the Bears, to play aggressively to score over the final 30 seconds. A roughing-the-passer penalty and 25-yard Mitchell Trubisky completion later, Eddy Pineiro snuck a 53-yard field goal just over the crossbar. Perhaps because of the fear that two points would drive Wilson to throw downfield and quickly score, the Bucs opted for an extra point. And assuming that each team had a 50/50 chance of winning in overtime on a day where they played regulation to an essential tie, that was likely a good decision. EdjSports' GWC model estimates that the Bucs would have to convert 55.6% of their two-point tries to make it worth it in that situation, a likely higher rate than they would convert in reality.
Still, Wilson likely had the Bucs terrified after Metcalf broke free of an attempted tackle for a short gain in the middle of the field and streaked down the left sideline and out of bounds for 18 yards. An offsides penalty pushed the Seahawks to within 2 yards of midfield, and then Wilson ran out of the front of the pocket for 21 yards and then out of bounds, putting the team in field goal range with 27 seconds to spare. Metcalf and Carson moved them even closer with 6- and 3-yard gains on first and second down, but Carson actually slid down at the 22-yard line, and the Seahawks intentionally let about 15 second tick off the clock rather than running a third-down play. That proved costly when Myers pushed his 40-yard field goal attempt just wide of the right upright. The same kick from 5 yards closer likely would have snuck inside the post.
The Bucs survived the kick, but they lost the overtime coin toss and never touched the ball again on offense. Presumably tired of his kicker's struggles, Wilson handled the Seahawks final drive by himself. He converted a second-and-10 with a 12-yard completion to Moore, and then flipped the ball to Carson over the head of linebacker Devin White, who had committed forward to try to stop Wilson in his apparent scramble to the outside. That advanced the Seahawks into Buccaneers territory, and they earned a first down at the 39-yard line thanks to an illegal contact penalty on the cornerback Dean. On third-and-6, Wilson aired out a back-shoulder throw down the left sideline, and Metcalf spun and secured it like a seven-year veteran. Now inside the Bucs' 10-yard line, Wilson needed just one on-target throw to tight end Jacob Hollister to score a walk-off touchdown.
Two losses behind the still-undefeated 49ers and just one loss ahead of a pair of NFC wild-card contenders in the Vikings and Panthers, the Seahawks could not afford to blow a home game to the two-win Buccaneers. Wilson made that win happen in spite of a number of his teammates' mistakes. With Aaron Rodgers not only losing but throwing for just 161 yards against the Chargers' No. 25 DVOA pass defense, Wilson pulled back in front in what looks like a fascinating MVP race.
The Best of the Rest
Colts at Steelers
Injuries have defined this Colts season, or they would have for a less resilient team. Their 29-year-old franchise quarterback retired unexpectedly before the start of the campaign because of an accumulation of injuries. Last year's defensive rookie of the year, Darius Leonard, missed a month with a concussion. Star receiver T.Y. Hilton injured his calf in practice last week and may miss a month. And in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Steelers, backup-turned-starter Jacoby Brissett sprained his knee, thrusting the team's third quarterback, Brian Hoyer, into action on the road.
An 11-year veteran, Hoyer is more experienced and more capable than most teams' third options, but his Week 9 play was still the rollercoaster you'd expect from a player who hadn't taken the bulk of his team's practice reps. His first attempt was an on-target touchdown pass to tight end Jack Doyle on a third-and-goal from the 11-yard line in the second quarter. He tried to find Doyle again in the red zone on his next drive but didn't see safety Minkah Fitzpatrick jumping the route. Fitzpatrick made an easy interception and returned it 96 yards for a Steelers touchdown. But then Hoyer shook off the bad decision and led a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that he punctuated with a perfect pass into the end zone, too high for the coverage but just within the reach of receiver Zach Pascal. Even after a last-second Steelers field goal, the Colts led 16-13 at the half.
The third quarter was just as crazy as the second, featuring a Colts turnover on downs, a Steelers safety, and then the Steelers' recovery of their own free kick, which Colts returner Chester Rogers let bounce, picked up, and fumbled anyway when Trey Edmunds crashed into him. That started the Steelers in the red zone, but they settled for a field goal on the Colts' 15-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter that put them up 23-18.
The Colts did not produce a scoring drive in the third quarter and now needed a touchdown to regain their first-half lead. They didn't come close to that on their subsequent possession, which ended after the third play, a third-and-5 incompletion that Hoyer threw behind receiving back Nyheim Hines. But they quickly earned another chance when Colts cornerback Marvell Tell stripped Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels as he tried to convert his team's next third-down play. Justin Houston was able to pounce on the loose ball before it bounced out of bounds and before Steelers tight end Vance McDonald could do the same.
The turnover returned the Colts offense to the field just 30 yards from the end zone. Marlon Mack cut that distance to 12 yards with a trio of carries for 2, 7, and 9 yards, the third of which he bounced to the outside and then sharply upfield to avoid backfield penetration. An incompletion and short slant later, it was third down again. Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward came free on a stunt and had a chance to sack Hoyer for a loss, but Hoyer ducked under Heyward's swipe and scrambled forward for 6 yards, 4 yards short of the end zone and 2 shy of the first-down line.
Colts head coach Frank Reich has routinely demonstrated himself as one of the most aggressive and most analytically sound decision-makers in football, and that didn't stop just because he was down to his third quarterback. He went for it twice on third-quarter fourth downs, and he went for it on this fourth down, improving his team's GWC by 6.0% over kicking a field goal. Hoyer rewarded that good decision by rolling right and hitting Rogers at the back of the end zone. Joe Haden and Mark Barron both understandably broke forward to defend the Colts' preeminent red zone threat, Eric Ebron, near the goal line. That let Rogers slip to the back for an easy pitch and catch.
Reich opted for a two-point try -- also a good decision, improving the Colts' GWC from 51.5% to 54.3% -- but Hoyer couldn't get enough zip on his sideline pass to Doyle to outrace safety Terrell Edmunds to the ball. But the Colts still had the lead at 24-23 as the Steelers started their next drive with 8:43 remaining in the quarter. And they started it with a bang with quarterback Mason Rudolph waiting poised in the pocket and delivering a deep ball to speedy receiver James Washington, which Washington snagged with a stop and jump to box out corner Rock Ya-Sin.
The 40-yard completion advanced the Steelers to the Colts' 35-yard line. Two plays later, Rudolph threw downfield again, this time to rookie receiver Diontae Johnson's back shoulder down the left sideline. Johnson couldn't stop his momentum to break back for the ball, but the referees called defensive pass interference, which replay showed in the form of Tell pulling on the front of Johnson's jersey to arrest his own momentum. Tell and the previous play's victim, Ya-Sin, are both rookie corners. They played a combined 99 defensive snaps in this game, probably double their preferred totals because of normal starter Pierre Desir's hamstring injury.
Reich supported his rookie corner with a challenge of the DPI call, but that of course was upheld, which the overwhelming majority of pass interference calls have been on coaches' challenges. Of course, Reich himself is one of the lucky few souls who has successfully won an interference challenge. Perhaps he isn't as jaded as the rest of the NFL by this point. And even with the challenge loss, Reich's defense was able to force a Samuels run for a loss and two Rudolph incompletions. The Steelers settled for a 26-yard field goal, and the Colts picked back up on offense from their own 25, down two and with 6:36 left in the game.
On second-and-7, Hoyer hit Rogers in stride on an out route that carried him out of bounds for a 14-yard gain. That advanced the Colts to their 42-yard line, but they quickly ceded that yardage when Hoyer took back-to-back sacks from Mike Hilton and T.J. Watt. Ebron improved their field position with a 9-yard dump-off catch and run, but he came nowhere near converting the team's third-and-25, and so they punted.
With less than four minutes to kill and possession, the Steelers were a handful of first downs away from sealing their victory. In part because of Reich's failed challenge, the Colts only had one timeout left to stop the clock. But Edmunds managed just 2 yards total on carries on first and second down, and Rudolph threw incomplete into the turf as safety Khari Willis came untouched around the edge to hit him as he released the pass. That forced the Steelers to punt and left the Colts with ample time -- about two and a half minutes -- to drive for a game-winning field goal.
Still, that started to look unlikely after Haden dislodged Hoyer's first-down pass to Rogers and pressure forced Hoyer's second-down throw off-line. At third-and-10 from their own 15-yard line, the Colts had fallen to just a 28.8% GWC. But there was no way Reich would die quietly. On third down, Hoyer dropped back and uncorked a deep pass to Pascal, running a fly route down the left side of the field. Pascal went down a good 5 yards shy of the ball after it looked like his and his defender Nelson's legs got tangled. That incompletion could effectively have ended the game, but the referees instead flagged Nelson for defensive pass interference.
The replay showed that Nelson did make contact with Pascal in his back, but that contact came late, when it was already clear the pass was overthrown and uncatchable. No doubt thinking the same thing, Mike Tomlin challenged the pass interference call, but that worked as well as Reich's earlier effort. And suddenly the Colts were at midfield with a 60.3% chance to win. That GWC jumped further to 73.6% after Pascal advanced the Colts into field goal range with some excellent body control, spinning back-shoulder and planting both field in bounds on the Steelers' 31-yard line. Tomlin, presumably still livid from the previous call, challenged this play for the non-call of offensive pass interference even though Pascal never appeared to touch Nelson as he made his spin. This decision neatly illustrates why Tomlin went more than a year without winning a challenge, and it crucially left the Steelers with just one timeout for their possible impending drive to answer a Colts field goal.
But there still was the two-minute warning, and that stopped the clock after Mack's first-down run for 6 yards. He followed that with a 3-yard dance up the middle, but he lost 3 yards on third-and-1 from the Steelers' 22-yard line, and the Steelers could then stop the clock with 1:14 remaining. Adam Vinatieri came out for a 43-yard field goal try. He had been dreadful this season, missing five of 17 kicks and five of 19 extra point attempts, but he did stripe a 51-yard game-winner last week against the Broncos. Sadly for the Colts, the former trend held here, and Vinatieri shanked the attempt extremely wide left.
Holder Rigoberto Sanchez may share in the blame for the missed kick since he spun the laces in instead of out, but as a noted terrible golf chipper, I can confirm that things go poorly when you hit the ground before the ball. The second replay view shows that Vinatieri scraped the turf with his foot before he struck the ball.
Thanks to losses by the division-rival Jaguars and Titans, the Colts actually improved their playoff odds from 55.1% to 59.3% with a loss. But that amusement may be short-lived if Brissett misses time, which he would if it is true that he sprained his MCL. The Colts may also have to consider if it is time to move on from Vinatieri who, Week 8 kick aside, has been dreadful this season. Weirdly, that might actually be more difficult for them than replacing their quarterback. Kicker roulette has been in full force this season, prompting the Patriots to sign Nick Folk most recently of AAF fame to replace their injured Stephen Gostkowski.
For all of my Colts talk, the Steelers deserve some praise for rebounding to a 4-4 record with their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season. That said, two of their victories came against the No. 31 DVOA Bengals and No. 32 DVOA Dolphins. Unlike the Colts and their top-10 DVOA offense, the Rudolph-led Steelers offense is just 23rd in DVOA. They do have a top-10 DVOA defense, but their overall inefficiency results in their low 37.3% playoff odds, even with the lack of wild-card contenders in the AFC.
Vikings at Chiefs
If Jacoby Brissett isn't the king of the year of the backup quarterback, then the Chiefs' Matt Moore may be. He threw for 267 yards, two touchdowns, and a 31.3% DVOA in the Chiefs' loss to the Packers last week, and he followed that with 275 yards, a touchdown, and a come-from-behind victory over the Vikings from a fourth-quarter nadir of just a 27.9% GWC this week. Moore did a lot of that damage on a first-quarter drive that ended on his 40-yard touchdown pass, which he aired out for most of those yards and dropped in over the head of cornerback Trae Waynes where only Tyreek Hill could make the catch. And then down six points in the third quarter, running back Damien Williams helped Moore out with a 91-yard touchdown carry where he weaved through the line and then jetted through the secondary with speed that only his teammate Hill could match. That put the Chiefs ahead, and they extended their lead to 20-16 with a Harrison Butker field goal in the final minute of the third quarter.
The Vikings started the fourth quarter with a second-and-10 play-action pass from their own 25-yard line that rookie tight end Irv Smith caught in a gap in the zone for 15 yards. Two plays later, Dalvin Cook cut through a big hole for 12 yards. He followed that with a 7-yard carry, and then receiver Stefon Diggs took an end around for 12 more yards down the left sideline. On second-and-9 from the Chiefs' 28-yard line, Cousins dropped back for a traditional pass, but to the surprise of all four Chiefs linemen, he was setting up a screen. With the first level already behind him, Cook took that screen for 22 yards to the Chiefs' 6-yard line. And then on third-and-goal from the 3, Cousins found Kyle Rudolph in small window between three Chiefs defenders in the back-middle of the end zone. The touchdown vaulted the Vikings to a 23-20 lead with just under 11 minutes for Moore and the Chiefs to try to answer, starting their next drive with a touchback.
That drive started promising with a 16-yard strike to Sammy Watkins in the middle of the field. But on a third-and-1 at midfield, Travis Kelce was flagged for an offensive holding penalty that erased Damien Williams' 11-yard pitch-and-run and backed the Chiefs into a third-and-11. That became a third-and-16 after a false start, and then a fourth-and-27 after an Ifeadi Odenigbo sack, and the Chiefs were forced to punt. Mike Hughes made that exciting by muffing the catch, but he was able to jump on the loose ball to set up his offense from their own 28-yard line.
Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski started that next drive with some aggressiveness, play-faking the run and allowing Cousins to throw on first down. But after Cousins threw the pass away in the face of pressure, they opted to kill clock with a pair of runs that netted -3 and 3 yards. On fourth-and-10 with 6:41 remaining, the Vikings punted back to the Chiefs.
After a 5-yard carry and an Everson Griffen sack, the Chiefs were in their own third-and-long. But Moore converted that with an 11-yard lob that Hill was able to dive back to catch. On the ensuing first down, Moore made a more accurate pass on a much harder throw, 41 yards down the right sideline. Hill still had to fight for that ball with his defender Waynes, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill showed excellent toughness to win the catch against the bigger Waynes.
That put the Chiefs at the edge of the red zone, but they fell out after a Williams run lost 3 yards. Moore threw an inch too high for his big tight end Travis Kelce, then took another sack, his fourth of the day. That pushed Butker back to a 54-yard field goal attempt, in the range of 50-plus yards from which he had yet to hit on two attempts this season. But Butker matched his previous years' standard -- six-for-nine from 50-plus -- and drained the kick with several yards to spare.
The Vikings had lost their lead, but tied with two and a half minutes of clock at the start of their next possession, they were well-positioned for a game-winning drive. But those efforts started poorly when Cousins' first-down pass was batted down by defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and safety Daniel Sorenson diagnosed the second-down Smith screen pass, which he tackled for a loss of 7 yards. It was all Cousins could do to throw his third-down pass away with Chris Jones draped on his back, but that still made for three straight incompletions that offered the Chiefs their own shot at a game-winning drive with just under two minutes remaining.
That drive started with its own near-disaster as Moore took his fifth sack of the day and fumbled. Defense end Stephen Weatherly came unblocked and was on Moore before he had turned out of his play fake.
The referees blew the whistle too early on the play, perhaps because they incorrectly believed the fumble to be an incomplete pass. It definitely wasn't. But the Chiefs had already been lucky with Damien Williams quickly recovering the ball. That avoided a turnover in the Chiefs own territory, and Moore quickly escaped the bad field position with a second-and-21 completion to Kelce that Kelce did well to hold onto as he was sandwiched by a pair of defenders.
Down to just 24 seconds, the Chiefs still needed to convert the third-and-4 to enter makeable field goal range. And Moore did just that, quickly throwing to the markers out of a heavy blitz, where Hill made the catch and spun upfield for another 9 yards to the 26-yard line. That's where Moore spiked the ball to stop the clock with three seconds left for Butker to attempt his fourth field goal of the day, this one 44 yards and for the win.
A good 10 yards shorter than his previous attempt, Butker made it look easy. And then he celebrated in a mosh of teammates that fortunately didn't leave the recovering Patrick Mahomes any worse for the wear.
The Chiefs didn't cover themselves in glory in the fourth quarter. The offense declined from a 36.9% DVOA over the first three quarters to -59.8% in the fourth. But they recovered both of their fumbles, and they won the special teams battle. That was just enough to pull out their sixth win of the season, maintaining a game-and-a-half AFC West lead over the Raiders and bumping their playoff odds over 90% with Mahomes potentially set to return next week.
Even with the loss, the Vikings kept pace in the NFC North, where all four teams surprisingly went down on Sunday. And they maintained excellent 68.7% odds of making the playoffs. Still, things could be a challenge for them if they can't overtake the 7-2 Packers within the division. In the race for the NFC wild cards, the Seahawks have just two losses, the Rams and Panthers join them with three losses, and the Eagles have four losses and have won back-to-back games.
Lions at Raiders
By record, the 3-4-1 Lions don't look like a solid team. But as was the case in their tie with the Cardinals and loss to the Chiefs, the Lions made mistakes that cost them in Sunday's game, where they out-gained their opponents in total yardage. Those mistakes started early against the Raiders, with Matthew Stafford botching a handoff to J.D. McKissic and throwing an interception to Daryl Worley in the end zone in the first half. But Stafford also led a pair of touchdown drives keep them within three points at 17-14 at the end of the second quarter. A missed Raiders field goal and made Lions one made it 17-17 at the start of the fourth, but Derek Carr zipped a third-and-goal pass to tight end Foster Moreau in the end zone, buoying the Raiders to a touchdown advantage.
The Lions regained possession with 14:47 left in the game, and after overthrowing Jesse James on second down, Stafford converted a third-and-7 with a 17-yard strike to slot receiver Danny Amendola. He stepped up in the pocket and threw off-balance to Kenny Golladay for 21 more yards, advancing the Lions into Raiders territory. But after two Ty Johnson runs lost and then re-gained 2 yards, Stafford saw pressure from an unblocked Benson Mayowa. He rolled right to avoid the sack, but couldn't plant his feet to put enough power behind a throw across his body to receiver Marvin Hall. Just outside of kicker Matt Prater's field goal range, the Lions punted and netted just 19 yards when special teamer C.J. Moore -- unable to touch the punt after being forced out of bounds on the return -- had to let the punt bounce right past him and into the end zone for a touchback.
Despite the setback, the Lions defense quickly earned their offense another chance when pass-rusher Trey Flowers broke free of his block and pulled Carr to the ground from behind for a sack. But Stafford failed to convert on back-to-back third-down attempts, the second of which came courtesy of a defensive offsides penalty. Another punt put the Raiders back on offense, now with 9:11 left in the quarter.
Josh Jacobs -- in the middle of a 28-carry, 120-yard rushing day -- carried the ball for 4 and 3 yards on the Raiders' ensuing first and second downs. That had Carr in a manageable third-and-3. He did well to scoop up a low snap that bounced back to him in the shotgun, but he couldn't find an open receiver. Rolling right to extend the play, he had to throw the ball away once he reached the right sidelines. That ended the Raiders' second drive of the quarter with their second three-and-out.
The Lions had not fared much better with just 10 plays and two punts of their own in two fourth-quarter drives, but they started their next drive in excellent field position because of an ill-advised fair catch interference penalty on Keisean Nixon. From their own 37-yard line, tight end T.J. Hockenson took a screen pass up the middle of the field for 19 yards and into Raiders territory. Hall took a pitch around the left end for 7 yards, and then Ty Johnson bounced a carry to the right side for another Lions first down. Then, on a first-and-10 from the Raiders' 26-yard line, Stafford tied the game with an out-and-up connection with McKissic, who was running free from overmatched linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
The Raiders' next possession was the Jalen Richard show. Carr may deserve most of the credit for his beautiful lob pass to Richard for 31 yards between a pair of Lions defenders…
… but Richard followed that with 7- and 5-yard carries up and the middle and then a 23-yard catch-and-run on a shallow cross toward the left sideline. Power back Jacobs couldn't push the Raiders past the Lions' 9-yard line with a first-down carry or second-down failed reception. But on third-and-goal, Carr escaped left out of the pocket and found rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow in a small window in the left side of the end zone.
The score returned the Raiders to a touchdown lead and left the Lions just under two minutes to answer from their own 23-yard line. Stafford started the comeback bid with a pair of 7-yard completions, the first to Marvin Jones down the right sideline and the latter to McKissic in the middle of the field. After a defensive holding penalty, Stafford tried a deep shot that sailed 2 yards past an open Kenny Golladay. But he connected with Golladay on third-and-10 for 24 yards that pushed the Lions into Raiders territory, and then Golladay earned them 26 more yards as cornerback Nevin Lawson tugged on his jersey and drew a defensive pass interference penalty.
Now with a first-and-goal from the Raiders' 8-yard line and with 50 seconds to score, the Lions were up to a 32.7% GWC. Stafford halved that distance with a first-down scramble, but then he tripped on his own lineman, precipitating a P.J. Hall sack that backed the Lions to the 14-yard line. Stafford connected with tight end Logan Thomas on the doorstep of the end zone, but three Raiders pulled him to the ground on the 1-yard line. And on fourth-and-goal, Stafford backpedaled and lobbed a jump ball to Thomas. But safety Karl Joseph made an acrobatic pass defense, knocking the ball to the ground and securing the Raiders win.
Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will undoubtedly be questioned for leaving receivers Golladay and Jones on the bench on the final play. Those outside receivers combined for 258 yards and two touchdowns against a Raiders defense that entered the week 29th in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers (subscription required and 26th in DVOA against No. 2 receivers. But that narrow focus then excuses the Lions for their many other mistakes that have dropped a talented team below a 10% chance of a playoff berth.
The Raiders, in contrast, have surprised much of the football world with a 4-4 record and realistic shot of a wild-card berth (22.6%) in a shallow AFC. With three winnable games against the Chargers, Bengals, and Jets the next three weeks, the Raiders even have a shot at an AFC West title. To pull that off, they'd likely need to take down the first-place and full-strength Chiefs in Arrowhead in Week 13.
Browns at Broncos
Other than their sleeper buzz in Football Outsiders' preseason projections, the Lions at least did not have expectations this season. With that definition of disappointment, it's hard to do worse than the Browns this season. Their loss to the Brandon Allen-led Broncos dropped them to 2-6 on the year and halved their chances of reaching the playoffs from 19.6% to 8.7%. The former sixth-round pick and completely inexperienced Allen actually threw for a pair of first-half touchdowns, but I'm not sure how much credit he deserves for them. The first was a fade that receiver Courtland Sutton absolutely stole over the top from cornerback Denzel Ward. The second was a 10-yard air pass that tight end Noah Fant took 75 yards through a failed Jermaine Whitehead tackle. Those two plays earned Allen 97 passing yards. He gained just 96 on his other 18 attempts.
Even with a limited offensive opponent, the Browns couldn't get out of their own way. They reached the red zone on their final four drives of the first half and came away with four field goals. Back in the red zone in the third quarter, head coach Freddie Kitchens went for a fourth-and-1 play on the Broncos' 5-yard line. But quarterback Baker Mayfield came up shy of the yard to gain and turned the ball over on downs. That left them with just 12 points and down 24-12 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Odell Beckham injected some life into the Browns' offense, snatching a pass over the top of cornerback Chris Harris and running for a 27-yard completion
Nick Chubb carried half of the Broncos defense for 11 yards and another first down, and then a defensive pass interference penalty on third-and-7 put the Browns back on the doorstep with a first-and-goal from the Broncos' 9-yard line. Finally, the Browns converted as receiver Jarvis Landry broke free of a Davontae Harris attempted tackle and scampered into the left side of the end zone.
Still up 24-19, the Broncos seemed most interested in killing clock. They ran Sutton and Phillip Lindsay for a combined 6 yards, and then after a roughing the passer penalty gave the Broncos a new first down, they ran Lindsay for 15 more yards. Unfortunately for the Broncos, that latter run was erased by an offensive holding penalty. Allen recaptured 14 yards with a short strike to receiving back Devontae Booker, but a false start and off-target incompletions on second and third down prompted the Broncos to punt the ball back to the Browns with 7:21 left on the clock.
Chubb started the next drive with an 11-yard reception sandwiched by 3- and 1-yard runs. On second-and-9, Beckham again juked Harris out of a potential tackle to gain 39 yards.
That put the Browns in Broncos territory, and a 9-yard Chubb run put them in a third-and-1 from the Broncos' 25-yard line. But there, Chubb lost 3 yards as a blitzing Justin Simmons pulled him down from behind in the backfield. Kitchens made the right call to attempt a pass (18.7% GWC) rather than attempt a field goal (11.9%) or punt (7.9%). But Mayfield couldn't connect with a double-covered Landry just beyond the sticks.
The turnover on downs returned the ball to the Broncos with just 3:19 of clock to kill, and the Browns had just used their final timeout prior to their fourth-down attempt. That meant the Broncos needed just one first down to seal the game, and they earned it -- without Allen -- on a direct snap handoff that Lindsay took 16 yards.
That carry took the clock to the two-minute warning and allowed the Broncos to end the game with a trio of kneels. The victory is too little, too late for a 3-6 Broncos team that has just a 1.2% chance of a rally bid at the postseason. But they likely drew some small satisfaction for playing spoiler for the Browns. After a -16.8% offensive DVOA over the first three quarters, the Browns made a charge with 72.7% offensive DVOA in the fourth. But their earlier touchdown-free red zone trips put them too far behind in their comeback quest, and their season likely ended as this game did in a loss.