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Colts, Bengals Big Winners in the AFC

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NFL Week 11 – Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we’re personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Indianapolis Colts 41 at Buffalo Bills 15

Aaron Schatz: Great opening drive for the Colts against the league’s best defense. Balanced, with a nice 18-yard pass to Michael Pittman, but it was mostly Jonathan Taylor with two double-digit runs and then pushing through Tre’Davious White at the goal line to score the touchdown. 7-0 Colts.

Bryan Knowles: That pass to Pittman might have had the most zip from Carson Wentz I have seen this year.

Dave Bernreuther: With the quarterback scratches today, this is only one of two games that I care about, so my DirecTV subscription is going mostly to waste while I sit on my back patio with just the one screen. Hopefully the game will live up to its prime billing. On the first drive, the Colts are getting chunk plays on every first down and quickly got themselves into first-and-goal position for Jonathan Taylor to smash in an opening touchdown. They look very well-prepared so far.

The same can not be said of the announcers, as Kevin Harlan referred to “only his eighth catch of the year” for T.Y. Hilton without mentioning his injury at all, and Trent Green made me belly-laugh by straight-faced claiming that “Carson Wentz has taken excellent care of the ball this year,” citing his TD-INT ratio … insert goofball pocket presence/fumbles/backhand reckless throws montage here.

Sorry, that stuff bugs me.

On an unrelated personal note, every time these two teams play it reminds me that the Colts drafted Jerry Hughes, he was a really great dude that was very cool to me and the family, and I miss him (as a Colt). So cool that he’s still doing well 10 years later. Not bad for a “bust”-ed draft pick.

Aaron Schatz: You have to tell the story of your interaction with Hughes. 🙂 We don’t often get to talk about players being good to our families.

Dave Bernreuther: Oh it’s nothing too interesting. We used to always go to games super early and the father-in-law would spend time chatting with stadium and training staff in the tunnel, right around the time when players would arrive. Toward the end of his rookie season, sort of out of the blue, we heard a jovial “Hey, Emersons! How’re you all doing?” greeting and turned around to Jerry Hughes, absolutely decked out head-to-toe in a bespoke suit, who was genuinely happy to say hello and Happy Holidays to a group that was, from his perspective, no different from any other random employee or team family member.

It just always stuck with me … he was super mature for his age and his enthusiasm was genuine. And while my ex and her mom and sister are super memorable as a group—three fiery redheads—he still didn’t really have any reason to know them by name.

The other really great dude that stands out from that era and his pregame routine was Jacob Tamme.

Bryan Knowles: Jonathan Taylor is having a day, just scoring his second touchdown of the day. Taylor caught an underthrown pass from Wentz (that’s more like it), and juked Taron Johnson out of his shoes on his way to a 23-yard score. 14-0 Colts early, and the Bills haven’t woken up yet.

Aaron Schatz: Officials just overturned what would have been Josh Allen’s second interception of the day. Still a bad throw. George Odom jumped the route on the first one, and then he was right next to Stefon Diggs on this second one. But it bounced and hit the turf so the Bills could end up scoring anyway. Devin Singletary run gets them into the red zone. Cole Beasley extends his arms to convert the third down. A couple of plays later, Stefon Diggs makes a tight cut to beat Rock Ya-Sin on the right edge of the end zone, so we’ll be at 14-7 Colts. Bills offensive line had a lot of problems on the first couple drives, played better on that scoring drive. We’ll see if Jonathan Taylor keeps cutting through the excellent Bills defense (second in ALY) which is missing Star Lotulelei and Tremaine Edmunds today.

Aaron Schatz: Rain a huge factor in Buffalo. Isaiah McKenzie just slipped on a kickoff return and fumbled the ball without being touched. Colts recovered and Jonathan Taylor goes over the top of the pile for a 2-yard touchdown on the next play. Bills are outgaining the Colts 6.3 yards per play to 5.6 yards per play right now, but the turnovers have the Colts ahead 24-7.

Aaron Schatz: Bills put up another good drive before halftime until they make another bad play. Daryl Williams gets whipped by Kwity Paye, and Josh Allen doesn’t get rid of the ball fast enough, and there’s a sack-fumble. Bills recover, but still, out of field goal range. They moved into very deep range on third down but Tyler Bass put the field goal off the upright from 57 yards. Man, the Bills are so inconsistent. Not just game to game, but play to play.

Aaron Schatz: Likely the worst defensive game the Bills have played all year, even worse than losing 34-31 to Tennessee in Week 6. They just missed tackles all over the place as Jonathan Taylor had a 40-yard run and then a 10-yard touchdown run. Now 31-7 Colts.

Bryan Knowles: I think we’re at ballgame here. Jonathan Taylor now has eight straight games with 100 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown, which RedZone says is a record, tied with LaDainian Tomlinson. That’s true, although it’s a little odd to mix “scrimmage yards” and “rushing touchdowns.” If you go for scrimmage yards and any touchdowns, Tomlinson’s 10-game stretch in 2006 still is the leader in the clubhouse, tied with Eric Dickerson in 1983. No matter how you slice things, though, Taylor’s having a hell of a year, and it looks like they’re going to pick up a huge victory today.

Pretty nice day for Patriots fans sitting at home.

Dave Bernreuther: I had the Colts in this one, because in spite of my distaste for Wentz, I still see this as a well-coached playoff-caliber team (albeit back-of-field) with something to prove and play for, while the Bills haven’t looked great lately and still more or less control their own destiny with two games against the Patriots coming up soon.

But wow. I did not expect the Bills to be completely unable to keep Taylor out of the end zone. Even with Quenton Nelson hurt (fingers crossed) his monster day continues. That’s now FOUR touchdowns on the day, and it’s getting to the point where I find myself hoping he pumps the brakes a bit (or a lot) so that they don’t end up having to pay him a monster second contract.

The Colts have blown several winnable games and large leads this season … at 31-7 with 4:40 left in the third in the rain, I think this one is safe.

(Also, I would like a pat on the back for not laughing Nelson Muntz-style at the inaccuracies of Josh Allen, given my history.)

OK, he just threw one up for grabs that ended up as a Volleyball-esque Kenny Moore pick. I retract my previous statement.

Washington Football Team 27 at Carolina Panthers 21

Scott Spratt: Cam Newton is back under center for Carolina and just marched the Panthers down the field for an opening-drive score. It was mostly vintage Newton with some runs and short passes to Christian McCaffrey. But weirdly, he failed to convert a sneak on a third-and-1 from midfield, and even more weirdly, head coach Matt Rhule went for a fourth-and-1. Newton converted that with a pitch to McCaffrey. Rhule entered the week in the bottom 10 in EdjSports’ Critical Call Index.

Scott Spratt: The broadcast had just shown the Panthers were 30th in red zone defense—and, wonder, they are 30th in red zone defensive DVOA, so that’s accurate—when Antonio Gibson fumbled on the 13-yard line. The ball bounced straight to Panthers defender Frankie Luvu, and so the Panthers maintain their 7-0 lead in the waning minutes of the first half.

Scott Spratt: This Taylor Heinicke touchdown pass had eyes.

With all the pregame talk about Cam Newton and Ron Rivera, have we overlooked the Heinicke revenge game?

Scott Spratt: Michael Jordan committed a holding penalty to erase a Christian McCaffrey first-down run. (Not that Michael Jordan. I wish.) The Panthers lost left tackle Dennis Daley in the first quarter to a glute injury, and Daley was already a substitute with normal starters Cam Erving and Matt Paradis on injured reserve.

Luckily, the team has Cam Newton.

Scott Spratt: Taylor Heinicke just pulled a Tom Brady and led 12- and 10-play drives for 71 and 66 yards and touchdowns to close the first half and open the second half with just nine seconds of possession for the Panthers in between. Suddenly it’s 21-14 Washington. And while Cam Newton has lived up to the high Carolina expectations for him, the Panthers defense has not. And they were back up to third overall and second in pass defense DVOA entering this week.

Dave Bernreuther: Not sure what makes that Brady-like, Scott … most of Brady’s touchdown drives this year have been coming on short fields.

(Ducks.)

Scott Spratt: The Panthers tried for some trickeration with a Christian McCaffrey lateral back to Cam Newton and pass forward to Tommy Tremble. The only problems: I’m pretty sure McCaffrey threw his pass forward, and then I’m pretty sure Tremble fumbled before he stepped out of bounds. The ruling on the field was a 16-yard completion, but Washington has multiple avenues to overturn this with a challenge.

Scott Spratt: Dean Blandino was agreeing with my assessment, but no, the ruling on the field stands.

The lateral was kind of like the Music City Miracle one. McCaffrey was clearly standing behind Newton, but the ball went back and Newton stepped and reached back for it.

That ruling was important, too, because on the next play, Newton found McCaffrey for a 27-yard touchdown. It’s tied up 21-21 early in the fourth quarter.

Bryan Knowles: They don’t, Scott, and Newton finds McCaffrey in a really tight window on the ensuing play to tie the game back up at 21!

Man, how bad was the Sam Darnold trade.

Scott Spratt: The Darnold trade was 4D chess, Bryan. Without it, the Panthers would have a rookie and therefore wouldn’t have Cam Newton.

Scott Spratt: Donte Jackson went offsides on a Washington fourth-and-7 at the Panthers’ 22, but Riverboat Ron opted not to go for the resulting fourth-and-2. Joey Slye actually made the short field goal for a change, but the Panthers have just over four minutes to get a field goal to tie or touchdown to win down 24-21.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers were about to punt on a fourth-and-3 at their 31-yard line, but the booing fans may have swayed Matt Rhule. Of course, Rhule had to call timeout to bring his offense back out. And then Newton hit McCaffrey a yard short of the line to gain. It’s a turnover on downs, and Washington is in excellent shape up three with less than three minutes left.

Scott Spratt: Antonio Gibson just ran out of bounds on the first play after the two-minute warning with the Panthers lacking timeouts. That saved the Panthers about 40 seconds to try to go the full field for a game-winning drive. They’re down six points at 27-21 after another Joey Slye field goal.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers made it to midfield with a bit more than a minute left, but Cam Newton couldn’t escape from pressure as he tried to run through the pocket on a fourth-and-3. Washington got the sack and turnover on downs, and they can take a knee to win this one 27-21. That’s a major blow for the Panthers’ playoff chances, too.

San Francisco 49ers 30 at Jacksonville Jaguars 10

J.P. Acosta: The Niners’ opening drive went 20 plays, 87 yards, and took up over 13 minutes of the first quarter. They settled for a 20-yard field goal. San Francisco up 3-0, but Kyle Shanahan is a coward for kicking.

Aaron Schatz: Not even fourth-and-goal from the 2. Fourth-and-1! They didn’t need to get in to get a new set of downs!

Aaron Schatz: I will note that everyone on Twitter is very angry with Garoppolo for missing a wide-open Jeffrey Wilson on second down.

Bryan Knowles: Since 2001, when Stathead’s drive database begins, there have now been 12 drives of 20-plus plays that did not end in a touchdown.

The 49ers are the only team with more than one—they have three, two from Shanahan and one from Steve Mariucci.

Scott Spratt: But can the Jaguars get to three points? I feel like the conservative approach is a lot more forgivable when you’re a seven-point favorite.

Bryan Knowles: That is true, and the 49ers are missing Elijah Mitchell, so they’re not at full strength in the running game at the goal line, which might explain some of Shanahan’s reluctance. What about Trey Sermon, you ask? Well, he has a carry … one carry, compared to nine for Jeff Wilson and three for Deebo Samuel, who I will remind people is theoretically not a running back.

Vince Verhei: Officially, that drive ate up 13:05 in time of possession. That’s longer than any drive in Stathead’s database, surpassing the 13 minutes flat that the Giants had on a 19-play, 76-yard drive in a 41-7 win over Seattle in 2010. All 19 of those plays were runs, and the drive ended with a turnover on downs as Sage Rosenfels took a knee on fourth down.

Bryan Knowles: Quirky Research dug up a a 13:27 drive from the Tennessee Oilers on Thanksgiving 1997, but the 49ers’ drive was the longest of the 21st century, so that’s fairly neat.

And if the 49ers can’t score from the 2-yard line, fine. They’ll hand the ball off to Deebo Samuel from outside the red zone, and he’ll just turn on the jets and burn past everyone for a 25-yard score. Garoppolo also hit Brandon Aiyuk for 34 yards to end the first quarter. Shanahan must be furious. How can you put up 13-minute drives if you have huge gains like that?

10-0, and the 49ers have the time of possession advantage 17:01 to 1:35.

Bryan Knowles: I am impressed at Jacksonville’s ability to generate pressure. That is the only thing about the Jaguars which is impressing me at the moment, as they have only run four offensive plays, have already committed four penalties, and just had a guy ejected for ripping off a 49ers’ player’s helmet and punching him in the face. Lots of poor discipline from the Jaguars defense, and while being on the field constantly will do that for you, I have to look at Urban Meyer after a performance like this.

49ers turn the turnover into points, with Brandon Aiyuk coming down to give the 49ers a 17-0 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Last update from this one, presumably. The 49ers found themselves on third-and-goal from the 1 again, and ran … a tackle-eligible play to Trent Williams, who was double covered and had no chance. For a moment there, I was upset that the 49ers would settle for another 20-yard field goal … but this time, Shanahan does go for it on fourth down, to find George Kittle. As long as the attempt at the Big Man Touchdown wasn’t a touchdown-or-bust play, I’m here for it.

I should also mention the 49ers’ rushing splits. Wilson has 17 carries for 44 yards. Samuel has seven for 79. Trey Sermon? Four carries. 7 yards. Eef. Well, at least he was a better third-round pick than Jalen Hurd.

Vince Verhei: That’s seven rushes for Samuel … but only one target. What a weird stat line. Are they putting him in the backfield? Or is all jet sweep/end around stuff?

Bryan Knowles: Little of both, Vince. Samuel appears to be the 49ers’ second running back today, behind Wilson. His one target is mostly due to Brandon Aiyuk being open on nearly every play, and George Kittle dunking on linebackers around the goal line.

Miami Dolphins 24 at New York Jets 17

Vince Verhei: Dolphins opened the game with a very good drive: 11 plays for 83 yards and a touchdown. Tua Tagovailoa made good use of his tight ends, hitting Mike Gesicki and Adam Shaheen for big plays. The touchdown came on a Wildcat play where Myles Gaskin took a direct snap and handed off to Jaylen Waddle for a rushing touchdown.

They followed with a very bad drive as Tagovailoa overthrew Waddle for an interception in Miami territory. Next snap, Michael Carter runs to the left for a gain of 39 down to the 1. Remarkably, that’s the Jets’ first 20-plus-yard run of the year. Because they are the Jets, it still takes them four plays to get 3 feet, but Joe Flacco finally hits Jamison Crowder in the end zone for the score.

We’re tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Vince Verhei: The Dolphins followed Tagovailoa’s interception with three straight punts as the Jets seemed to have totally figured out their all-RPO offense. Miami did finally reach the red zone on their last drive of the half, but Tagovailoa threw incomplete on first and second down, then Jason Sanders’ 32-yard field goal try at the end of the half hit the upright and went out.

Fortunately for Miami, they’re still tied because the Jets can’t score either. Matt Ammendola has his own off-the-uprights missed kick (in his defense, it was a 55-yard try), and Joe Flacco gave up a goal-to-go fumble when Brandon Jones came unblocked on a defensive back blitz. So we’re still tied 7-7.

Scott Spratt: Is it just me, or do the Dolphins have the biggest disparity between their scripted plays to start their games and their normal offense that follows?

Vince Verhei: We got some fireworks in the third quarter as Mack Hollins and Elijah Moore exchanged 60-plus-yard touchdowns.

 

Vince Verhei: The Dolphins put this away with a pair of long scoring drives in the fourth quarter: 14 plays, 75 yards, touchdown, and 12 plays, 45 yards for a field goal. In a losing effort, Moore finished with a big day for the Jets, with eight catches for 141 yards and a score.

Green Bay Packers 31 at Minnesota Vikings 34

Vince Verhei: Big day for kickers as each team’s first drive ended with a 50-plus-yard field goal. Packers second drive ends in a punt, and they were lucky that was the case—Aaron Rodgers looked weirdly panicky on a third-down sack and coughed up the football, but fortunately for him the Packers recovered. Not that it mattered—Justin Jefferson got open for a 56-yard gain down to the 1. The Vikings challenged the non-touchdown and lost. Complete waste of a challenge and a timeout there. Dalvin Cook scored on the next play anyway, though Minnesota missed the PAT. Vikings up 9-3 at the end of one.

Vince Verhei: Remember last week when Green Bay didn’t give up a single point to Seattle? They’re not doing as well this week as the Vikings have scores on each of their first three drives to take a 16-3 lead. Kirk Cousins just hit Adam Thielen for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 10. Officially, Cousins is now 7-of-8 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Unofficially, he underthrew a ball into double coverage that was incomplete, but resulted in a DPI for a gain of 37. He also threw an interception that was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty. But the Packers keep making mistakes and giving him more chances, and he’s making them pay.

Justin Jefferson, by the way, has three catches for 104 yards, plus that 37-yard DPI. We’re only halfway through the second quarter.

Vince Verhei: Aaron Rodgers seems like a guy who’d be really difficult to work with. This is why the Packers put up with him.

Rodgers followed this throw by watching Minnesota’s final drive of the half from the tunnel. Didn’t go into the locker room, mind you. Just stood there surrounded by security, no teammates or coaches or medical staff. After a long Minnesota completion was overruled to incomplete by replay review, I guess he finally left, because the Vikings punted and Jordan Love took the field to take a knee. Maybe he just had to use the bathroom? Well, whatever. Vikings up 16-10 at halftime.

Vince Verhei: Here’s Rodgers just chillin’ in the tunnel with all of his friends.

In on-field news, the Vikings take the opening drive of the second half and march 75 yards in 14 plays for a score. Dalvin Cook finally making some noise, running for three first downs on the drive. Justin Jefferson gets the touchdown catch and he’s up to a 4-113-1 statline. They lined him up in the backfield and got him matched up on a safety and, well, that was easy. Minnesota goes back up by two scores, 23-10.

Bryan Knowles: The Vikings have their contractually required double-digit post-halftime lead, so it’s time for them to stop playing football—they’re actually 1-2 in games where they have had 13-point leads this season. And indeed, here comes the Packers, with Rodgers going to Davante Adams over and over and over again until the reach the end zone. 23-17 Vikings, still, but this is every Minnesota game this season—big lead early, big collapse late, last-second play to decide the winner.

Vince Verhei: Here’s Rodgers’ latest touchdown. What are the Vikings doing here? Is this a zero-man pass rush?

Vince Verhei: We had a conversation in the Quick Reads comments recently about how Kirk Cousins has been brilliant this season when trailing or tied, but dreadful when playing with a lead. Well, last play of the third quarter, Vikings have a third-and-10 at the edge of field goal range. Preston Smith gets to Cousins and knocks the ball free, and the Packers recover. Green Bay will open the fourth quarter with possession near midfield, down by only six points.

Dave Bernreuther: The Packers just ran a play I used to run in my basement as a young kid when I played imaginary games (basically what Russell Wilson was doing a few weeks ago, except I was 7): a handoff where the ballcarrier—Randall Cobb, having motioned into the backfield at medium/pistol/we-put-our-big dude here depth—still had an option to the outside, AJ Dillon running wide around the edge from normal running back depth. The Vikings converged on Cobb, so he pitched it outside for an easy conversion of third-and-barely-1, and late-1980s Dave is very pleased with himself.

There really is something to this Vikings with or without a lead thing, isn’t there? 24-23 Packers now.

Bryan Knowles: The Inevitable Vikings Game has happened, with the Packers taking the lead late in the fourth. But Kirk Cousins marches the Vikings back down, and just hit this touchdown—impressive throw under heavy pressure. The two-point conversion is good, and the Vikings have a seven-point lead … with a little over two minutes for Aaron Rodgers to Rodgers.

Vince Verhei: The Packers lost Elgton Jenkins to a knee injury. It does not look good, and it may hurt them going forward. But it does not stop them from driving 86 yards after the injury and taking the lead. That includes the totally sweet option play Dave mentioned earlier, and then a very bizarre touchdown. On third down, Rodgers turned to call timeout just as the ball was snapped. He turned back to catch the ball, so he never actually made the timeout signal, and even if he had, you can’t call timeout after the ball is snapped. But the Vikings pretty clearly thought there was a timeout, because they left Davante Adams totally uncovered in the end zone. You can’t really see the non-timeout in this clip, but you can see the result.

But the Vikings still have Justin Jefferson, and the play Bryan linked earlier. That’s 7-163-2 for Jefferson now. Cook runs in the two-pointer and we’re tied.

Bryan Knowles: We are once again tied. The first play of the Packers ensuing drive, the Vikings bring pressure, it gets nothing, Rodgers finds Marquez Valdes-Scantling behind the defense, and we have a 75-yard touchdown. We still haven’t reached the two-minute warning, so did the Packers leave too much time for Kirk Cousins?

Vince Verhei: OK, I’m done linking every highlight from this game. You all have Google, you can find the highlights yourself. Marquez Valdes-Scantling just scored a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage after Minnesota’s score, and we’re tied again, just before the two-minute warning.

Aaron Schatz: We’ll need to find video of the Rodgers pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling because the Packers just tied it up by going 75 yards on their first play of the drive. Just toasted safety Xavier Woods, very badly.

Dave Bernreuther: Not hyperbole: I had flipped back to the Colts, saw Bryan’s email, and in just the time it took to change the channel, Rodgers hit Valdez-Scantling for the tying score.

Which, if recent history is any indication, was a huge favor to the Vikings. 2:08 left on the clock.

Dave Bernreuther: Did the Vikings really replace Xavier Rhodes (who has been bad this year) with Xavier Woods? And did I really not know that until now?

That’s kind of amazing.

Aaron Schatz: Woods is a safety, so I don’t think he replaced Xavier Rhodes directly. Looks like quarters coverage and Valdes-Scantling just raced right past him.

Vince Verhei: FINE. Here’s MVS.

And then Cousins’ deep shot to Jefferson is intercepted and Green Bay takes over right at the two-minute warning.

Bryan Knowles: Note: They did not leave Kirk Cousins too much time. Cousins is intercepted by Darnell Savage on the first play of the VIKINGS’ ensuing drive. We just now reached the two-minute warning; it has been a hell of a 15 seconds.

Aaron Schatz: Savage does not complete the catch! Interception is overturned! Still Vikings ball.

Dave Bernreuther: I remain unconvinced that that wasn’t to the Vikings’ advantage. Short field and too much time for the Packers. Giving up a last-minute Mason Crosby field goal puts the Vikings right where they want to be in 2021.

Or not … as the interception was overturned, and now the Vikings get to keep the ball. That’s not as entertaining (to me, anyway)…

Vince Verhei: WAIT! NEVER MIND! Instant replay shows Savage did not hang on to the ball! Minnesota retains possession, Cousins hits Jefferson for a first down, and NOW we are at the two-minute warning.

What a bonkers football game this has been.

Vince Verhei: Vikings playing smart with the clock. Cook rumbles for a first-and-goal and they begin to take knees. Joseph will come on to try a 29-yard field goal with two seconds left.

Vince Verhei: The kick is good. Minnesota wins and moves to 5-5, right in the heart of the NFC playoff slop.

New Orleans Saints 29 at Philadelphia Eagles 40

Vince Verhei: I hope you started Jalen Hurts in fantasy. Through three drives, he’s up to seven carries for 37 yards and two touchdowns. He also has a 20-yard run where he did not slide or get out of bounds, but tried to bury his shoulder into a defender. Pretty sure I’d be discouraging that if I was the Eagles—he’s not Kyler Murray, but he’s not Cam Newton either. Regardless, Eagles take a 14-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Trevor Siemian has started 2-of-7 for 12 yards with an interception. Last year, Sean Payton thought Taysom Hill was a better choice than Jamie’s Winston; this year, he thinks Hill is worse than Siemian. It’s all so bewildering.

Bryan Knowles: I never thought I’d say it, but it may be time to put Taysom Hill in at quarterback. Trevor Siemian just threw his second interception of the day, straight to Darius Slay, who returns it 51 yards to paydirt. The Eagles have a 27-7 lead over New Orleans, and it isn’t as close as that sounds. I’ll be mildly surprised if Siemian comes out under center to start the second half.

Vince Verhei: Here’s the Slay touchdown. That’s two straight weeks with a touchdown for him.

If Hill doesn’t come in, I’m turning this game off. There’s no point in watching Siemian throwing fadeaway pick-sixes. The Saints, with all their missing personnel, may have the worst offense in the league, and I can’t see them overcoming a 20-point deficit. Not counting kneeldowns, they had eight drives in the first half. None gained more than 32 yards. Their touchdown (a Siemian-to-Adam Trautman connection) came on a 6-yard scoring drive after a Miles Sanders fumble. It’s pretty hopeless. At least with Hill there’s always the chance he scrambles for some big plays.

Vince Verhei: No Taysom Hill to open the second half. I am turning off Trevor Siemian to switch to (checks notes) Tim Boyle.

(Bears-Ravens is a local game, so it’s blacked out on Sunday ticket. I have to choose between that and Packers-Vikings, and I’m watching that one instead.)

Aaron Schatz: I realize it is not likely for the Saints to fully come back, but oh my god, Sean Payton just kicked a field goal to turn a 14-point lead into an 11-point lead with only 7:14 left. Fourth-and-7 from the 10. I know that’s a loss, but what on earth does that field goal get you?

Houston Texans 22 at Tennessee Titans 13

Tom Gower: Halftime, and the Texans hold a surprising 12-0 lead (two field goals plus a touchdown with a missed extra point). I like to say you can get pretty far on defense in the NFL without being too good; all you have to do is limit explosive plays (easier said than done, I know) and force bad offenses to repeatedly execute. That normally works pretty well against bad teams like Houston, but the Texans offense has been shockingly productive today. Their longest play on offense is just 13 yards, but their two scoring drives had five and six first downs, so repeatedly executing. Their third score came after a Kamu Grugier-Hill interception of Ryan Tannehill was returned inside the 10.

That pick leads to the other surprising part of today, a Titans offense that hasn’t scored. I don’t know what Tannehill was doing on the pick, since he more or less threw it right to Grugier-Hill playing underneath coverage on third down in the red zone; it was like he expected him to screw up. The Titans had three more drives end in Houston territory without getting to attempt a field goal. One of them was a stuff on fourth-and-1 at the 31. The Titans also jumped when they were lining up to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Houston 35, and Tannehill was flagged for intentional grounding to end the half when he looked to the end zone from the 24 with 9 seconds to play (Ring of Honor inductee Jeff Fisher apparently at halftime said that it was not intentional grounding, but Gene Steratore and I disagreed). Tennessee doesn’t have any explosive plays, either, which helps explain the offensive struggles.

Scott Spratt: The Texans are +27 in point differential with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and -138 with Davis Mills.

Cale Clinton: As someone who has watched multiple Houston Texans games this season (sickening, I know), this team just has a different energy level with Tyrod Taylor at the helm. Taylor has always gotten a bit of a bad shake historically: run out of Buffalo, replaced by Baker Mayfield after sustaining a concussion, then dealing with whatever happened with the Los Angeles Chargers. Houston really hasn’t given Taylor much of a team to work with, but he’s certainly making the most of it. Don’t have a receiving corps to work with? Tyrod goes a perfect 10-for-10 to the team’s top four receivers for a combined 69 yards. Playing behind an offensive line we have ranked 26th in the league in pass protection? Tyrod hasn’t been sacked all game. Nobody on Houston’s roster has the ability to find the end zone? Tyrod does it himself with a pair of scrambles for scores.

Everybody’s going to harp on how revitalized the Carolina Panthers look with Cam Newton at the helm, and rightfully so. That being said, put some respect on Tyrod Taylor’s name.

Speaking of respect on a name: for the announcers in the booth on this game, it’s pronounced “TUH-rod,” not “TIE-rod.”

Cale Clinton: Just when this game looked to be within reach for the Titans, Tennessee’s last four drives have been interception, touchdown, interception, interception. Houston takes over headed into the two minute warning up 22-13.

Tom Gower: Texans win 22-13. Houston scored 13 points on three possessions starting in the red zone after turnovers, the dumbest on a punt where return man Chester Rogers didn’t get far enough out of the way and the ball hit his foot. That was dumb. But other than the drive before that punt, they barely did a thing in the second half. Tyrod Taylor was notably off; maybe it was the rain, but it felt like almost every pass he threw for a good stretch in the second half was doubly short—both not very far downfield and with a low trajectory that didn’t necessarily make it to the receiver. But the formerly good Titans pass rush didn’t have any sacks, and were credited with just one quarterback hit, by slot corner Elijah Molden.

The Titans continued to move the ball in the second half, but it was again rarely easy. They converted a fourth-and-3 before their first touchdown, got stopped on fourth-and-6 in field goal range, converted a fourth-and-1 to keep a drive alive but threw a pick in field goal range, did cash in on good field position after Houston couldn’t move the ball after starting at the 1 due to the pick, threw another pick to set up what proved to be the clinching field goal, and added another pick for good measure. The last interception was a good play by Texans corner Terrance Mitchell, reading Tannehill and sinking from his underneath position in Cover-2 to take away the turkey hole (deep outside void) shot, while the previous two I’d put more on bad offense than good defense.

Tennessee played most of the game without their starting wide receivers. A.J. Brown went out early with a hand injury, returned, and missed the fourth quarter after suffering a shoulder injury. Marcus Johnson pulled a hamstring in the first quarter and was ruled out relatively quickly; given his career history is rarely being healthy, how quickly he was ruled out, and he missed time earlier this season with a hamstring injury, I’m not optimistic about his future availability. That led to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, a second-year former undrafted free agent, having his first career 100-yard game. Anthony Firkser also had seven targets, his most since the comeback against the Browns in Week 13 last year; his only significant positive play was recovering a fumble by Dontrell Hilliard in the end zone for the second touchdown. On a play-to-play basis, the Titans offense was actually OK, but the picks weight things heavily, and offensive execution in critical situations, which had bailed them out most of the season, wasn’t there today. This was a bad loss, but if you had the Titans viewed by their play-to-play performance rather than their record or quality of wins, it’s much easier to understand.

Rivers McCown: Interesting that you bring that up Cale, because we had the Tuh-rod vs. Tie-rod debate around here during training camp and it turns out that a lot of people, including his own mother, call him Tie-rod. At this point I am so confused by what I am supposed to call him that I just want a definitive press release from his agency or something.

As for Taylor’s play, well, the Texans have 15 defensive turnovers in his four starts. That helps a lot with the ol’ point differential. They have four in six Davis Mills starts. It’s not saying a lot to say he’s better than Mills and while I have been impressed with him in spurts, he also is kind of relying on the odd out-of-structure play to work out well for him. As it did today with both red zone scores. Those and more covered in me actually writing about a Texans win, something that hasn’t happened for two months.

Baltimore Ravens 16 at Chicago Bears 13

Scott Spratt: Justin Fields appeared to get his leg twisted on a run, and so it looks like Andy Dalton is coming in. Dalton vs. Tyler Huntley is no fun, although at least it’s avoidable in the early Sunday window. Dalton vs. Tim Boyle with no other games at 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving is a nightmare. Hopefully Fields will be OK.

Scott Spratt: Maybe Andy Dalton was what the Bears needed because he threw a 60-yard touchdown pass immediately after he entered and put the Bears up 7-6 in the third quarter.

Granted the pass was several yards behind the line of scrimmage … but scoreboard!

Dave Bernreuther: It’s 13-9 Bears and the Ravens, whose quarterback I’m not totally sure I can even name without Google (Huntley, but I got his first name wrong) face third-and-2 in Bears territory with 33 seconds left. On a failed play, the refs flag Alejandro Villanueva for holding (a terrible call, but that’s neither here nor there), and Matt Nagy accepts the penalty.

Now … fourth-and-2 against the Lamar Jackson Ravens is one thing. But this isn’t that. This is the T.Huntley Ravens.

Independent of the outcome—a blown coverage that let a quarterback running for his life away from Robert Quinn throw a desperate pass and still complete it—giving a backup two plays instead of one, when needing a touchdown instead of a tying field goal, seems like a TERRIBLE decision.

What’s the Edj analysis on that one?

(The Ravens scored, of course, and will now win, 16-13, in an outcome that we can only describe as “pretty freaking lucky.”)

Cale Clinton: After a 49-yard Andy Dalton touchdown strike to Marquise Goodwin, Tyler Huntley leads the Ravens 72 yards downfield with a 21-yard pass to Devin Duvernay and a 30-yard ball to Sammy Watkins. Devonta Freeman caps it off with a touchdown punch-in.

Hilariously sad statistic from Jim Nantz and Tony Romo: this is Chicago’s second straight game where they have taken a lead in the last two minutes, then lost said lead.

Aaron Schatz: Response to Dave from EdjSports. Baltimore’s win probability was 0.3% higher if the Bears accepted the holding penalty and took third-and-13 than if they declined it and took fourth-and-3. (It was 3, not 2.) So very close, not really an important decision.

Dave Bernreuther: I guess that doesn’t surprise me. It’s not as if they couldn’t have still converted a blown coverage bad pass on fourth down. It definitely *felt* wrong to me though (hard-hitting statistical analysis, that).

I have a lot of Bears fans as friends … the overwhelming sentiment on that, and this season, has shifted to “good; maybe losing gets Nagy fired.” I can’t really argue with them on that one, I guess.

Detroit Lions 10 at Cleveland Browns 13

Cale Clinton: Not a lot of chatter on this game, but it’s not like we’re missing much here. Kevin Stefanski has called a quality game on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from an opening-drive interception from Baker Mayfield, the Browns haven’t had too much trouble moving the ball. Jarvis Landry scored the opening touchdown on a Wildcat scramble, opting to keep it for a 16-yard run instead of checking it down to D’Ernest Johnson. Nick Chubb is doing Nick Chubb things, notching 53 rushing yards on 10 carries with an additional 14 receiving yards and a touchdown on a pair or receptions. Chubb doesn’t look as explosive in his first game off the COVID reserve list, but you can’t complain about 5.3 yards per carry.

Vince Verhei: D’Andre Swift in the first half: four carries, 11 yards.

D’Andre Swift so far in the second half: four carries, 92 yards, including this 57-yard touchdown.

Cale Clinton: D’Andre Swift makes one cut and he’s off to the races for a 57-yard touchdown run! That officially brings Detroit within six points of their first win of the season! This game just went from “close, but in-hand” to “VERY interesting” in the matter of one play.

Cale Clinton: At what point does Baker Mayfield gutting out these injuries for the sake of his contract actually hurt his long-term earning potential? Between his shoulder and whatever lower-body injury he sustained in this game, Mayfield can barely move. The play looks extremely sloppy.

And just as I write this, Baker has a pass tipped for his second interception of the day. Detroit takes over at Cleveland’s 34-yard line, but can only muster a field goal. Lions cut the lead to 13-10.

Vince Verhei: The older I get, the more I think “gutting through injuries” isn’t brave, it’s stupid. Mayfield is now the only player to throw two interceptions in a game against Detroit this year.

Cale Clinton: Detroit sniffs out a David Njoku screen on second-and-long and pressures Mayfield into an incompletion on third down. Cleveland punts.

As badly as *I* want Detroit to win this one, it feels like neither team actually wants to walk away with this victory. After a 24-yard run-and-catch by T.J. Hockenson, Detroit goes run for no gain, play-action screen for a loss, then D’Andre Swift draw on third-and-14 before punting.

Cale Clinton: Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson have collectively iced this game for the Cleveland Browns. Chubb finishes the day with 22 carries for 130 yards, his third-highest total of the season.

Arizona Cardinals 23 at Seattle Seahawks 13

Vince Verhei: It was a game-time decision, but no Kyler Murray today. Great news for Seattle, as there’s no chance they could ever lose to a backup like Colt McCoOH GOD NO.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks defense came into the game allowing a league-worst 6.9 plays per drive. Cardinals’ first possession lasts 16 plays and ends with a touchdown on McCoy’s shovel pass to Zach Ertz. Seven first downs on the drive, including conversions on all three third-down plays.

I don’t know if I can take this, guys.

Cale Clinton: I don’t know if it was just a case of Cincinnati Stink plaguing A.J. Green, but he has continued to impress since joining the Arizona Cardinals. At age 33, he’s posted the highest yards per reception mark since his rookie year and doing it with the third-highest catch rate of his career. I think the downgrade in his role has paid dividends, but I don’t think anyone was expecting him to still be able to make catches like this:

Aaron Schatz: Question for Vince: Does it look like Russell Wilson’s finger is still bothering him and he came back too early? Or can you not even tell because the Seahawks haven’t had the ball enough for him to throw many passes?

Bryan Knowles: Wilson only has five pass attempts, though I suppose he also has an incomplete pitch to Alex Collins that he had to jump on top of. Seattle’s offense just looks massively discombobulated everywhere.

Not the Cardinals, however. Even with Colt McCoy dropping the snap, he was able to pick it up and hit Zach Ertz for his second touchdown of the day. If McCoy wins this game, 30% of his career QBWinz will have come against Seattle. 13-3 after the missed extra point.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks get a late field goal, but still trail 13-6 at halftime. Wilson is now up to 6-of-11 passing, so it’s not as if he’s just scattering incompletions all over the place. I count two throws where he flat-out missed open guys, but unfortunately both came in the red zone: a bad underthrow of Freddie Swain when he might have ran in for a score, and a bad overthrow of Gerald Everett for a sure six points. Their drives have ended after:

  • Back-to-back sacks (on quick pressure, not because Wilson was holding the ball forever).
  • A pitch to a running back who wasn’t expecting it, resulting in a big loss.
  • DK Metcalf’s failure to catch a ball in bounds, then that underthrown incompletion to Swain.
  • Another third-down incompletion where Wilson threw to a double-covered Metcalf instead of a wide-open Swain.

So, a lot of problems, some of them Wilson’s, but the finger is just one item on the list.

Seattle is also running a lot, when they do have the ball. Their running backs have 10 carries for 60 yards. Arizona’s defense is last by a wide margin in second-level yards. Christian McCaffrey gained 10-plus yards on half his carries last week. So it makes sense to attack them there.

Anyway, that’s four drives for Seattle for a total of 27 plays. Meanwhile, the Cardinals also had four drives and ran 40 plays. That includes 16- and 13-play touchdown drives (both catches by Zach Ertz). The Cardinals have converted five of seven third downs, and have a fourth-down conversion too. Seahawks defense just can’t get off the field.

The Cards should actually be ahead by more—they have missed an extra point and a field goal. Seahawks are very lucky to be down by just one score.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks fans now going through an existential crisis. After another third-down incompletion (low and behind the receiver, though I’m not sure if it was a bad throw or an attempt to avoid the underneath linebacker in coverage) leads to another punt from midfield, the boos begin to rain down. Not the first time today. Won’t be the last. But the handful of optimists out there try to boost the players’ spirits by chanting SEA! HAWKS!, leading to the odd scene of cheers for the home team as they punt the ball away.

Vince Verhei: Metcalf fails to reel in a catchable pass in traffic. Will Dissly flat-out drops one. Wilson is sacked again. Chandler Jones, who has never played for the Seahawks, is now in the top 10 for sacks in this building.

It’s 16-6 at the end of the third quarter and I’m only sending this email out of a sense of professional obligation.

Bryan Knowles: Don’t count the Seahawks out just yet, Vince! After yet another miss by Matt Prater, Wilson hits Lockett for 48 yards, and then DeeJay Dallas takes them the rest of the way into the end zone. It’s 16-13 Arizona, and there’s plenty of time left for the ‘Hawks to save their season, at least for now.

Aaron Schatz: Seattle has life! They just scored a touchdown to make it 16-13. The big play was a 48-yard strike to Tyler Lockett and it looked like Lockett was being covered by linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Simmons is good in coverage—for a linebacker. But that’s not a good scene for Arizona.

Vince Verhei: Matt Prater misses another field goal. Both of his misses, and the missed PAT, all from within 40 yards.

With the door left open, Wilson hangs in the pockets and finds Tyler Lockett for a gain of 48. DeeJay Dallas runs for a 15-yard gain on third-and-1, then scores a 2-yard touchdown on the next play. That’s Seattle’s first touchdown in November.

It’s 16-13. Seven minutes left to save the season and maybe the Pete Carroll and/or Russell Wilson era.

Aaron Schatz: The Cardinals, needing to score to ice the game, ran Colt McCoy on a read option to get a first down and then a quarterback draw to get another first down. COLT. McCOY. Seriously.

Vince Verhei: Honestly, the best plays McCoy has made today have been with his legs. There’s a lot of failed-completion fluff in his passing numbers (Rondale Moore: 11 catches for only 51 yards) but he has scrambled away from pressure to complete passes multiple times.

And there’s another one as he slips away from a rusher and gets outside and throws a touchdown to Christian Kirk, though they are reviewing it to see if he completed the catch … and no he did not. Incompletion, third-and-goal from the 5. McCoy throws to Ertz, and it’s incomplete, DPI on Jamal Adams, first-and-goal, and the light is fading.

Vince Verhei: And Conner scores on the next play. Cards up 23-13 with 2:20 to go. Congrats on your draft pick, Jets, hope you get a good player.

Bryan Knowles: We all know how difficult it is to get Colt McCoy off the field.

Vince Verhei: So if you haven’t heard, Pete Carroll walked out of his postgame presser in the middle of a reporter’s question, left to take a shower, then came back and issued a sort of an apology to the press and continued. I decided that was the best decision Carroll had made all day and left to take a shower of my own. And now, with a clear head, I realize that I was so busy whining about the state of the Seahawks today that I didn’t do enough to credit Arizona. The Cardinals, without Kyler Murray, moved back into first place in the NFC. Their offense today was built around Colt McCoy, James Conner, A.J. Green, Zach Ertz, and Rondale Moore, with Rodney Hudson at center—none of whom were on this roster in 2020. There’s a lot left to decide for awards such as MVP or Coach of the Year, but Steve Keim gets my vote for executive of the year for sure.

Dallas Cowboys 9 at Kansas City Chiefs 19

Bryan Knowles: With Amari Cooper missing the week with COVID, Noah Brown is in the starting lineup—and had a pretty big drop on third-and-3, forcing Dallas to go three-and-out. Not ideal against the Chiefs, or at least the Chiefs we all imagine the Chiefs to be.

And, indeed, the Chiefs march right down the field and score, thanks to Running Plays from Non-Running Backs—33 yards from Tyreek Hill, an 11-yard rush from Patrick Mahomes to get the Chiefs to the goal line, and then Travis Kelce on a 4-yard score in one of Kansas City’s Patented Goal Line Shenanigan plays. Extra point is no good, so the Chiefs just have a 6-0 lead.

Scott Spratt: With the Texans upsetting the Titans, the AFC is out of teams with two or fewer losses and has just three teams with three losses—the Titans, Ravens, and Steelers (who also have a tie). So are the Chiefs winning the 1 seed?

Carl Yedor: Inauspicious start for Dallas here on offense between a quick punt and a Dak Prescott fumble. The defense was able to hold the Chiefs to three after the turnover, but the Cowboys need to get something going in a hurry. Kansas City appears to be dialed in on what the Cowboys want to run in the passing game, and the Cowboys have been a bit off in the early going.

Bryan Knowles: Clyde Edwards-Helaire takes the option toss in to give the Chiefs a 15-3 lead, but performs a truly heinous act—he points at a defender as he goes into the end zone. Obviously, an infraction of that magnitude can’t be ignored, so it’s a 15-yard taunting penalty. The Cowboys take it on the extra point, but Harrison Butker knocks it through anyway, so no harm no foul, I suppose. Make it 16-3, Chiefs.

Aaron Schatz: Chiefs have scored on their first three possessions. Just got their second touchdown on an old-fashioned speed option around the right side. Lead 16-3. Cowboys are giving them a lot of space underneath and the Chiefs are happily taking those throws. They also hit Byron Pringle on a deep cross for 37 yards, but it’s mostly shorter stuff and runs. Their defense is playing well and you can really see where the Cowboys are missing Amari Cooper and his ability to get open against man coverage.

Scott Spratt: Add “pointing at a defender” to the list of things that draw you a taunting flag.

The penalty on Clyde Edwards-Helaire backed Harrison Butker up 15 yards on his extra-point try. But after missing his first one from the normal distance, he made this one. Ball don’t lie.

Scott Spratt: Woah, Tyron Smith substitute at left tackle Terence Steele just got roasted by Frank Clark and unsurprisingly held to erase a would-be first down pass to Dalton Schultz. The Cowboys are second in adjusted line yards and third in adjusted sack rate on the season, but at less than full health, their offense looks a lot more vulnerable.

Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys just had a tight end screen where the blockers didn’t pull out in front, followed by a wide receiver screen where one of the receivers completely blew his block to get the guy with the ball tackled easily. You can’t call all these screens against the Kansas City pass rush if you can’t execute.

Tom Gower: Chiefs up 16-3 at the half. The last three Kansas City possessions didn’t have anywhere near the success the possessions building the lead did, but the score remains unchanged after Charvarius Ward beat CeeDee Lamb for an end zone interception after Micah Parsons whipped Andrew Wylie and ran down Patrick Mahomes to force a fumble.

The big story is the Dallas offense and how ineffective and, maybe more importantly, dysfunctional they have looked. Tony Pollard ripped off a 31-yard gain, but otherwise he and Zeke Elliott haven’t been able to keep drives going against the newly effective Chiefs run defense. Without Amari Cooper, Dallas has looked to Michael Gallup as the sustaining factor, and he had 16 yards on seven targets. Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson have both dropped every ball thrown their way (though Wilson’s was negated by a defensive penalty), so the Cowboys aren’t getting contributions from their depth receivers, and Lamb hasn’t been a factor. It feels a bit like the Cowboys are trying to hide their offensive line, which has struggled some, with a run-heavy game plan, but that has just put them behind the chains and let the Chiefs concentrate on rushing the passer, putting the offensive line under more stress.

Scott Spratt: Let’s do a compare and contrast of Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes on this deflected interception.

Kelce just stands there like an outfielder watching a home run fly over his head. Mahomes puts his body on the line trying to make a tackle on the interceptor Jayron Kearse. Maybe that means nothing; Kelce wasn’t going to be able to catch Kearse, certainly. But the look of that Kelce non-effort has to be a bad one for one of the Chiefs’ team leaders, right?

Bryan Knowles: If anything, Scott, I’d hope my $0.5 billion quarterback wouldn’t be putting his body on the line like that in November.

Derrik Klassen: Kansas City sorting out the spine of their defense has been huge over the past month. Being able to kick Chris Jones back inside has helped open up the rest of the pass rush, while getting Willie Gay back from injury has given them a linebacker that doesn’t make me yell at the screen every time I see them. Gay’s speed at the second level is something that defense has not had in a long, long time. Great stop by him on that third-and-2 to get to Zeke Elliott in the flat and bring him down.

Bryan Knowles: Love to see the numbers on this one—the Chiefs ran a pooch-punt with Harrison Butker rather than attempting a 52-yard field goal, and ended up pinning the Cowboys deep, for about two plays. A make would only have stretched the lead from 10 to 13, so still two touchdowns, and a miss would have given the Cowboys good field position, so I see the reasoning, but … mmm.

Vince Verhei: As the resident staff hater of long field goal attempts, I love this play.

Tom Gower: Just to finish up this game … the Chiefs didn’t end any of their final eight legitimate (non-kneeldown/end of half) possessions inside the Cowboys 30. They scored three points, hitting one long field goal and missing another. But it didn’t matter, because the Cowboys offense never looked good. Not having Lamb in the second half hurt, and Chris Jones on the inside is a different player than Chris Jones playing defensive end. No, Dak Prescott didn’t look quite right all the time, but I wasn’t quite as convinced as Troy Aikman was that that explained everything. However you come down on that question, this was not the game I was expecting. We talked about this on Thursday’s podcast—the over/under around 56.5 felt way too high, but a game in the 50s wouldn’t have been a surprise. This defensive struggle was not what I expected, at all, and kudos to the Chiefs for winning another one of those.

Cincinnati Bengals 32 at Oakland Raiders 13

Bryan Knowles: Not a lot of action in this one yet. A fumble set up the Raiders’ early field goal, the Bengals got one back of their own, and we had a Raiders punt on fourth-and-4 from the Cincinnati 44 to cause some hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth. In fact, the biggest play right now might be the unnecessary roughness flag that saved the Bengals on a third-and-11—Brandon Facyson came in with a late helmet-to-helmet hit, setting up Joe Mixon to run the ball into the end zone on the next play. 10-6 Bengals, late in the second quarter.

Bryan Knowles: The Raiders’ offense put together a quick-strike touchdown drive to keep them in this one, but the defense looks absolutely beat, with Joe Mixon running all over them. The Bengals have had the ball for a little over 36 minutes to the Raiders’ 19, and there’s a lot of tired hands on hips and bending over for the Raiders’ defenders. Game’s not over yet, but Ja’Marr Chase just scored again to make things a 22-13 Bengals lead with five minutes left, and I’m not sure the Las Vegas defense has enough gas left to get a stop.

…and as I type this, Derek Carr is picked off by Eli Apple, so maybe the game IS over yet.

Rob Weintraub: The kind of win you like to see for Cincinnati, grinding out a tough win with running and defense, not to mention future 10-time All-Pro Evan McPherson banging home three 50-pus-yard field goals, and a 47-yarder (of course he also missed a PAT—wasn’t far enough away, apparently). Las Vegas was definitely undisciplined, had little creativity on offense, and after some spirited play on defense early wore down from Cincy’s pounding. Both sets of defensive ends were good, the difference being Cincy’s ends—Sam Hubbard in particular—were stout against the run. D.J. Reader also was a force inside, as usual. The Bengals clearly went into the game with idea of jiu-jitsuing Maxx Crosby, who crashed hard on every play but was often outflanked or run inside of. Cincy had major tackling issues in their last two games before the bye week; it was apparent they worked on that and were much better today. The Raiders did all they could to take away the deep ball to Ja’Marr Chase, but the tipping point was nevertheless a feathery touchdown pass from Burrow-Chase in the red zone. In the end the game belonged to Joe Mixon, and Cincy’s dedication to the run even when it wasn’t doing much early. Cincy is now 6-4, with five of their last seven games at home.

Main takeaway: the Bengals are flawed, but do a number of things well and can win in several different ways. Sounds like 90% of the AFC…

Side note No. 1: the turf at Allegiant Stadium was terrible. Like, FedEx Field bad.

Side note No. 2: After winning 11 straight coin tosses, the Bengals have now lost five straight. Who can calculate the odds they win the next one? (Analytics!)

Pittsburgh Steelers 37 at Los Angeles Chargers 41

Scott Spratt: This game is a battle of weakness versus weakness. The Steelers have the fourth worst adjusted line yards on offense (3.80) and the Chargers have the fourth worst adjusted line yards on defense (4.83).

Derrik Klassen: That’s a great job by Rashawn Slater on the touchdown run to get a bit of movement initially as part of the double team and then keep Cam Heyward pinned inside. Heyward has been as good as any defensive lineman in the league this year; definitely not an easy task for the rookie offensive tackle. Gave right guard Michael Schofield a clean runway to kick out the edge player and open it up for Austin Ekeler to walk in.

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh gets all the way downfield and goes for it on fourth down from the two and fails. That tight end shovel pass must have worked in practice but tonight it was very badly blocked and never had a chance. I still feel like you should run on third down if you know you plan to go for it on fourth down. But knowing how inconsistent Mike Tomlin is about fourth downs, maybe he didn’t know he was going to go for it on fourth until it was actually fourth down.

Vince Verhei: That whole sequence was odd. First-and-goal from the 6, they go handoff to Chase Claypool, handoff to Najee Harris, incomplete fade, shovel for no gain.

The Chargers are dead last in rushing DVOA. 27th in power situations. Just run right at them four times.

Scott Spratt: It may not be fair to critique a Steelers defense missing T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, but the Chargers have gashed them for 183 yards on their first two drives. And after finishing third and first in pass defense DVOA, the Steelers are down to 15th so far this season.

Scott Spratt: I was going to laugh off the Diontae Johnson tennis ball video until he immediately followed it with a touchdown catch to cut the Steelers deficit to 14-10. And because Johnson dropped 13 balls last season per Sportradar charting, the most in football. This year, he hasn’t dropped any.

Aaron Schatz: The Steelers had another crazy goal-line set after a blocked punt in the fourth quarter. Incomplete swing pass, jet sweep that went nowhere, pass batted down on a short cross, then DPI for a new set of downs. You’re on the 1 now, Pittsburgh. Try just running it into a bad Chargers run defense.

And they do and Najee Harris goes over the top for the score. 27-20 Chargers

Vince Verhei: Steelers block a punt to get a first-and-goal at the 3, down by 14 points. (#ChargersSpecialTeams) Time to turn this game around. RUN UP THE GUT FOUR TIMES.

Nope, we go incomplete pass, end around for a loss of 2, pass batted down. Now on fourth-and-goal from the 5, they have to pass again, and it’s incomplete, but there’s DPI on L.A. First-and-goal at the 1, NOW they run up the gut, and it’s an automatic touchdown for Harris, and the lead is cut to seven.

Why do coaches so often overthink this kind of thing?

Scott Spratt: This game has seemed over since the second quarter. But the bad Chargers special teams struck again! This time, it was a blocked Ty Long punt that set the Steelers up at the Chargers’ 3-yard line. The Steelers scored a few plays later to cut their deficit to 27-20. But the Chargers have been bottom-10 in special teams DVOA every year since 2014, spanning now three different coaching staffs. That’s pretty remarkable.

Aaron Schatz: The Steelers have scored 24 points in the fourth quarter. How do the Chargers do this all the time?

And the Steelers stuff Austin Ekeler on fourth-and-inches on the Chargers 34!!!

Aaron Schatz: Just to show the Chargers made the right decision by going for it:

Vince Verhei: Steelers punted on their first drive of the second half. Since then: FG, TD, TD, TD, FG to take the lead. That includes a 3-yard touchdown drive after the blocked punt, an 11-yard touchdown drive after an interception, and just now, a 7-yard field goal drive after the failed fourth-down play.

But that lead doesn’t last long because the Steelers forgot to cover Mike Williams, who gets a 53-yard touchdown. Chargers up 41-37 with 2:09 to go.

Aaron Schatz: Cameron Sutton tried to jump a pass to Keenan Allen that never came, and Tre Norwood, the safety … I don’t know what he was doing, Williams was going into his deep zone and you have to move over and cover him.

Vince Verhei: Another view of that play, highlighting L.A.’s player of the game.

Tom Gower: This was a weird game. The first four possessions took almost 26 minutes of game clock, and both teams only had the ball three times in the first half. Heck, the Chargers ended up having the ball five times in the first three quarters and six in the fourth quarter (if you include the final kneeldown). It just gave the game a weird sense of pacing, almost like the opposite of a pre-shot clock college basketball game. That made it a weird game for me to analyze, when I try not to get into individual plays and individual possessions, and we didn’t have many of the latter for most of the game which put more emphasis on examples of the former. From that perspective, “halftime” of this game was maybe with about 14 minutes to play. I don’t know how much “sense” this perspective makes, but I can’t get it out of my head right now.

compiled by Andrew Potter





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