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Patriots, Buccaneers, Bengals, Packers Win Big


NFL Week 12 – 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.

Carolina Panthers 10 at Miami Dolphins 30

Scott Spratt: We have talked in Audibles about how the Dolphins have their best offensive success on their opening drives. But the broadcast just showed the Panthers were the only defense that hadn’t allowed a touchdown to an opponent on an opening drive. That was a surprise to me even though I watch them every week. And lo and behold, the Panthers held the Dolphins scoreless on their opening drive today. Tua Tagovailoa converted a third-and-11 with a Jaylen Waddle slant completion, but he didn’t see Brian Burns on his blind side on a subsequent third-and-5. The sack caused a fumble. And although the Dolphins recovered, the loss backed them out of field goal range and forced a punt.

Scott Spratt: I guess that was a bait-and-switch by the Dolphins because after forcing a Panthers three-and-out deep in their own territory, Duke Riley went unblocked and blocked the punt. Justin Coleman recovered and ran 2 yards into the end zone to put the Dolphins up 7-0.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers have gotten both good and bad Cam Newton so far. The good was a goal-line touchdown run when he was stood up at the line but spun off and scored anyway.

The bad was the interception he just threw to rookie Dolphins safety Jevon Holland.

Holland was giving help to DJ Moore in the slot. But when Moore broke into a slant with defenders waiting in the middle of the field, Holland had the freedom to leave his outside leverage and run to undercut Robby Anderson. Newton would have needed to throw higher and outside to avoid that pick.

The Dolphins couldn’t convert that turnover into points, but they have the Panthers backed up deep in their territory again at 7-7 early in the second quarter.

Scott Spratt: Cue Cam Newton throwing the ball to cornerback Xavien Howard, who was running DJ Moore’s route for him. And three plays later, Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle in the end zone.

Question for the group … is Waddle imitating a dolphin because he’s a Dolphin or is he doing a penguin dance because his name is Waddle?

Scott Spratt: After a quick start in his first three games this season, Sam Darnold had a two-game grace period before the town turned on him. I’m thinking Cam Newton may have a half. He has started this game 2-of-10 with two interceptions. And while those picks may have been worse decisions than throws, Newton has also missed some easy throws pretty wildly. I wouldn’t be stunned to see Matt Rhule turn to P.J. Walker in the second half.

Scott Spratt: Newton has as many first-half completions on 15 attempts as Tagovailoa has incompletions on 21 attempts: three. But Tagovailoa also failed to scoop up a low snap in field goal range in the waning seconds of the first half. Frankie Luvu of the Panthers ended up with it and made it down into Panthers field goal range with one second left in the half. It was a massive break for the Panthers, but even after a field goal, they trail 21-10 at halftime.

Scott Spratt: Newton is back out there to start the second half, but Christian McCaffrey isn’t. He rolled his ankle again in the first half, apparently.

Bryan Knowles: Newton did indeed come out for the second half, and responded with the best Panthers drive since the first quarter—uh, 24 yards, with a fake punt bailing them out of a three-and-out, but then followed by an actual punt a few plays later. The Dolphins’ ensuing drive looks set to sputter out, but a Haason Reddick taunting call gives them new life inside the red zone. You’re down 11 points, you know taunting is a point of emphasis this year, what are you doing?

A few plays later, Myles Gaskin scores the touchdown. The PAT is missed, so it’s only 27-10, but if the Panthers can’t get something going right now, this one is over.

Scott Spratt: It took until the 10:58 mark in the fourth quarter, but P.J. Walker has replaced Cam Newton. It’s too little too late for Matt Rhule’s Panthers, and I’m not talking about the 30-10 score today.

Bryan Knowles: Walker’s first four plays in for Newton: A sack, an 18-yard completion, another sack, an interception. Sam Darnold’s shoulder getting better by the second, I would imagine.

Scott Spratt: So I know it’s a down 2022 class of quarterback prospects … but what about 2023?

Bryan Knowles: Scott, could I interest you in a James Richard Garoppolo?

Scott Spratt: Anyone but Deshaun Watson.

Tennessee Titans 13 at New England Patriots 36

Aaron Schatz: Titans go nowhere on their first drive. Ryan Tannehill held the ball too long on third down for another Matt Judon sack. Patriots move the ball easily on their first drive. Titans not bringing a lot of pass rush so far. They end the drive with a great touchdown, perfect touch by Mac Jones and wonderful toe-tapping by Kendrick Bourne. 7-0 Patriots.

Cale Clinton: I love watching Kendrick Bourne play. I think he’s one of the most athletic wide receivers New England has had in their building in some time. Just a really gifted route-runner who has answered the call as he has continued to earn opportunities throughout the season. Yet another member of the Patriots’ 2021 free-agent class paying dividends in-season. Makes the money Nelson Agholor is getting next year that much more confounding.

Aaron Schatz: Strong, steady second drive by the Titans ends in a touchdown. Good mid-level pass gains against zone defense, combined with some short runs. Tannehill had an 11-yard scramble and also converted fourth-and-1 with a sneak after the Patriots left a clear hole in the middle of their defensive line. Wide receiver screen to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine at the goal line was originally ruled short of the line to gain but replay showed that he was down but never touched before he crawled into the end zone. Randy Bullock doinks the extra point off the right upright, so we’re at 7-6 Patriots.

Aaron Schatz: Now 13-6 Patriots. It should be closer, but Bullock has doinked not just an extra point but also a field goal off the right upright. Patriots are moving the ball pretty easily before getting stopped in the red zone on two of their three drives. Titans have no pass pressure at all today, except on a Kevin Byard safety blitz on the last drive which nearly resulted in a Mac Jones interception. Where’s all that Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons pressure we saw against the Rams a few weeks ago? Mac Jones is very comfortable in the pocket and finding his receivers. Patriots running game not yet making big gains; we’ll see if that changes in the second half. Overall, Pats with almost twice as many yards per play as the Titans but the Titans keep finding ways to move the chains with mid-range passes. A roughing the passer on Matt Judon helped, one of those iffy “body weight on the quarterback” calls. Tannehill had Chester Rogers open on the last drive, double move on Myles Bryant was just beautiful, but either he overthrew Rogers or Rogers lost track of the ball in the air. That led to the Bullock doinked field goal.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots defense just completely gave way on a third-and-3 handoff up the middle to Dontrell Hilliard. Devin McCourty was the deep safety, and once Hilliard got through a huge hole and went around McCourty there was nobody left to stop him. Went 68 yards, a terrible play for the Patriots, now 16-13 New England with 37 seconds left in the first half.

Aaron Schatz: Here’s the Hilliard touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: Pats miss a 53-yard field goal right before halftime, so still 16-13. The most important thing for the Pats in the second half is going to be more wins against the Titans’ offensive line in the running game. The Titans aren’t really dominating but they are getting steady 4- and 5-yard gains and the holes on that Hilliard 68-yard run were enormous. On offense, Patriots are humming even though they aren’t running much. They’re just getting stopped in the red zone but we know there’s some randomness to that. In general, Patriots offense looks very good.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots get a bit lucky when D’Onta Foreman fumbles after a 30-yard gain and the Patriots recover. Then after their drive stalls out, the Titans oddly went three straight passes even though their running game looks so good today. Overall, the Titans are now gaining more yardage than the Patriots per play, 6.9 to 6.5, but the Patriots still have a lead thanks to fumble recoveries and Randy Bullock doinks. They need to figure out a way to beat the Titans’ offensive linemen on running plays.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots take the lead 26-13 on a Kendrick Bourne touchdown grab. I was surprised the Titans did not blitz Mac Jones on third down, which was the only way they have gotten pass pressure today, and Jones got the ball to Bourne for a short gain but then the Titans couldn’t somehow push Bourne out of bounds as he tiptoed down the line for 41 yards and a score. Next drive, Titans once again move the ball downfield, mostly with runs but a couple of good passes. However, huge goal-line stand by the Patriots includes a J.C. Jackson interception on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Even better than a normal goal-line stand because it means the Patriots get to start with the ball 18 yards further downfield on their next drive.

Cale Clinton: Really struggling to process the play call by Tennessee on that fourth-and-goal from the 2. D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard are averaging 4.8 and 5.5 yards per carry respectively. You’re in the midst of a drive where you have already gained positive yards on 10 designed runs (plus a scramble by Tannehill). New England has struggled with run fits all game. Don’t go away from the run just because you only picked up 1 yard on the play prior.

Side note: Bill Belichick better hand J.C. Jackson a blank check this offseason. Forced fumble, pass breakup, now an interception off the top. I don’t know what this defense looks like without Jackson, but I can’t imagine it’d be pretty.

Aaron Schatz: They will be handing Jackson a franchise tag, not a blank check.

Tom Gower: The Titans ran the ball consistently and effectively, averaging 6.9 yards per carry as a team, and with both backs going for over 100 yards as both had explosive runs. They had been getting killed on third-and-longs, and they avoided them almost completely. They only had one third down with more than 5 yards to go, and that didn’t come until six minutes left in the game. The vaunted Patriots run game was almost completely ineffective for three quarters, to the tune of 10 carries for 14 yards on first downs (one run for -2 was negated by an offensive holding penalty that Mike Vrabel chose to accept). When the Patriots did get to scoring territory, they often had to settle for field goals. And it didn’t matter at all.

Mac Jones was outstanding on first downs, finishing 13-of-16 for 218 total yards. A lot of that was done on play-action, which killed the Titans defense. Both D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard compensated for their 100-yard days by putting the ball on the ground, as the Titans fumbled five times in total. While the Tennessee defense shut down the run game for three quarters, it did manage to provide the dagger to make it 36-13, and the Patriots made it to scoring territory on nine of their 10 possessions. The vaunted defensive front … Bud Dupree is on IR, and Denico Autry put up the same statline today. Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry made plays against the run, but weren’t factors in forcing Mac Jones off his spot. The Titans were credited with seven QB hits and two sacks, but they all came from other players. The secondary receivers, the guys they needed with A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on IR, did nothing of note. The Titans’ two longest plays were those runs by Foreman and Hilliard; their longest pass play was on a flea-flicker. Their second-longest gain through the air covered just 14 yards. Kicker Randy Bullock missed an extra point and a field goal. The return units did nothing of note. They had committed multiple special teams penalties on their first punt of the game, and after the re-kick, the Patriots’ field position improved by 32 yards.

After the Titans lost to the Jets back in Week 4, I was tempted to draw larger lessons. At this point of the season, what this loss means is that the people pretending the Titans were a great team have to stop pretending. The Colts lost today, improving Tennessee’s chances of winning the AFC South. They’ll use the bye week to get healthier. They may not get the No. 1 seed, or they still may, depending on how other teams fare. The remaining schedule is still soft. There’s plenty of time to get ready for January, and right now the AFC still looks extremely open. The version of Tennessee that played today isn’t talented enough to win, but that probably won’t be the version of Tennessee we see then.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 at Indianapolis Colts 31

Bryan Knowles: The Buccaneers have run 10 offensive plays. Two of them have been passes right into the hands of Colts defenders, just dropped. A third was a Chris Godwin fumble, and this time the Colts actually do fall on top of it for the turnover. For all that has been made of the lack of home field advantage, the Buccaneers offense hasn’t looked quite the same when away from Tampa this season, and that’s happening again today. Very early, of course, but still.

Dave Bernreuther: The announcing team of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen are all over the “No. 1 runner vs No. 1 rush defense” angle of Jonathan Taylor and the Bucs (No. 2s in DVOA of course), but the most interesting part of this to me is seeing if and how Quenton Nelson matches up against Vita Vea in that run game. Nelson, of course, was as sure a thing as there could be when he was drafted at six in 2018, but as we talked about in our Draft Audibles, I was still not the biggest fan of the pick, and found myself hoping that Chris Ballard could have convinced the Bills to trade to six instead of seven, in order to pick up Vea and more picks (he had quite a haul by that point already, of course). I suppose such an arrangement may have meant no DeForest Buckner, among many other butterfly-flaps-its-wings that likely also includes the Bucs not winning the title last year, and thus there’s no point wondering about it at all, but nevertheless, the battle in the trenches of the 2018 No. 1s is the most interesting part of this one to me.

Through two possessions, the Colts’ defense is mere inches from having two interceptions and has recovered a Chris Godwin fumble, and the offense is a Michael Pittman Jr. stumble from probably being up 7-0 instead of 3-0. Tom Brady has looked a bit off so far, even when not pressured, and with good field position to start a second drive, it’s hard to ask for more from the Colts so far.

Derrik Klassen: Colts linebackers playing out of their minds in this first quarter. Obviously Darius Leonard’s punch-out forced fumble is the highlight, but Bobby Okereke has made a handful of plays himself. On that last drive with about five minutes left in the quarter, Okereke fired down to shut down a weak-side run on the perimeter on second down and then knocked the ball out of Leonard Fournette’s hands on a third-down passing play. Those two are going to need to keep playing this way all game.

Scott Spratt: An interesting piece of the Bucs run defense is that teams don’t even try to run against them. Offenses are averaging 20.8 rushing attempts per game against the Bucs this year. The Ravens defense is second at 21.5. And no one else is below 23.4. Does that subjectively factor into your consideration of their run defense even if the play efficiencies land them second in run defense DVOA?

Carl Yedor: Scott, I would say not necessarily because teams A) know going in that they are going to need oodles of points to keep pace with Tampa Bay and B) often fall behind and are forced to play catch-up, leading to abandoning the run even if they don’t want to. I think there is some general acknowledgement that teams will try to pass more often due to Tampa Bay’s relative strengths and weaknesses, but part of those differences in trends are likely game script-dependent to a certain extent.

Dave Bernreuther: It does for me, Scott.

But they do look good when there are runs too. On the third possession, a second-down run goes nowhere after two Bucs interior linemen (including Vea beating Nelson badly on a stunt) maul Taylor in the backfield. This set up a longer third down, which the Colts would have converted if not for the THIRD failed attempt to Michael Pittman Jr. of the quarter. He gets a pass for slipping on the first, but the next two have hit him right in the hands, and this latest one would have been a first down for sure. I’m decidedly not on the “Tom Brady is an MVP candidate” train, but he’s still Tom Brady, and he’s not going to misfire all game. The Colts need to be getting points out of these drives with good starting field position.

The Colts look like they’re daring the Bucs to throw deep; seems like they have extra players up around the line of scrimmage on every play, which has helped them swarm side-to-side on both the run game and the short passing game. So far it’s working—in the time it took me to type my complaint about Pittman, the Bucs go three-and-out again.

Two side notes: This is the best I have heard Greg Olsen sound so far, and I really dig the stripes on the throwback socks the Colts are wearing. I think that they should bring back the dual-striped socks.

Ugh. Zach Pascal just fumbled badly, and now the Bucs are in scoring range. Perhaps fearing the deep shot immediately after the turnover, the Colts played it really soft and deep on the first play after the fumble, and Brady had an easy toss to a completely uncovered Rob Gronkowski. The Colts are very much in danger of squandering a great start.

Bryan Knowles: And indeed, that start is squandered, Dave, as Fournette punches it in for a touchdown to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead. The Colts did not pick up a first down in the first quarter.

And, to add injury to insult, DeForest Buckner limped off the field after the score with some sort of foot injury; they’ll need him. In fact, this has been quite a bit of attrition in this one already, as the Bucs have seen Devin White, Jamel Dean, and Aaron Stinnie all leave the game in the first 15 minutes, though all are questionable to return.

Bryan Knowles: Well, the Colts have a first down now, as Carson Wentz finds Ashton Dulin beating Sean Murphy-Bunting for a 62-yard score. Dulin just ran past Murphy-Bunting; I don’t know if he was expecting safety help over the top or what. But it was a perfectly placed pass, and the Colts take the lead back.

Dave Bernreuther: To be clear, Carson Wentz is no Peyton Manning, and Ashton Dulin is no Marvin Harrison.

But something about that touchdown pass, starting with Wentz’s play-action bearing off to the right guard side and how he ducked and moved his feet, and how Dulin moved his man before cutting to the post, took me back to 2005 and Peyton hitting Marvin deep.

On the ensuing drive, we see the wisdom of the “make him beat you deep” strategy. Sure, he will still complete them sometimes, especially from a perfectly clean pocket, but Brady isn’t nearly as good deep as he is short (nobody is, of course), and Isaiah Rodgers wins on a deep shot to give the Colts the ball back via the third turnover (overall) of the half.

Speaking of secondary players, Dean has been ruled out. That makes him roughly the 364th Buccaneers defensive back to miss time this season.

Bryan Knowles: And once again, Tom Brady throws an interceptable ball—only this one actually is picked off, with Isaiah Rodgers pulling in the overthrown deep shot. Turnovers coming fast and furious in this one.

After what was possibly his prettiest deep ball in years, Wentz then goes back to the Wentz we’re used to seeing, badly underthrowing a deep shot but taking advantage of the almost obligatory defensive pass interference call—one day, we’ll get rid of the automatic spot foul for those types of plays, but until they do, Wentz will have a starting job in the NFL. The Colts work it down into the red zone, but MVP Candidate Jonathan Taylor gets stuffed on third-and-2; Taylor has eight carries for 25 yards today. No matter—Wentz sneaks for the conversion on fourth down, and then finds an uncovered Jack Doyle on the next play to extend the Colts’ lead to 17-7.

Dave Bernreuther: Greg Olsen is really after my heart today. Few cliches, insightful and thoughtful analysis, and a proper takedown of the underthrown DPI after Murphy-Bunting tackles Zach Pascal when Pascal tried to come back for a pass that was badly underthrown by Wentz. Especially after all the lazy cliches that the CBS D and E teams have been throwing out there during most Colts games earlier this year, Olsen stands out as a gem. But he has really improved a lot and deserves a slot near or at the top of the FOX analyst ladder.

As a Colts fan I liked the flag, of course. As a football fan, I hate seeing bad passes rewarded. Objectively, Murphy-Bunting took him down so obviously in that case that I’d have thrown the flag even though I hate the call.

Derrik Klassen: Jack Doyle touchdown is a good example of the issues defenses run into by running these Bear front defenses out of 3-4/5-2 base personnel. The defense ends up in a spot where they either have to rush all five guys on the line of scrimmage or drop an edge rusher into coverage. Anthony Nelson (6-foot-7, 271 pounds) was the edge player in a stand-up position and had to play the flat area in coverage on that Doyle touchdown. Nelson was supposed to carry Doyle through the flat and up the sideline on the wheel route, but seeing as he isn’t a coverage guy by nature, Nelson sort of got lost, came off Doyle to settle back down in the flat, and gave up the touchdown over his head. Could see cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (the deep cornerback) yelling at him for it after the play.

That’s the price defenses pay for going all-out to stop the run game with Bear fronts.

Bryan Knowles: Tip to Colts defenders: If Rob Gronkowski is going up the middle of the field, you may want to cover him with somebody. Gronk just split the defenders in a fairly weak zone, with at least three Colts defenders sliding away from him as he ran his route. That gets the Bucs inside the 10-yard line, and Fournette punches it in a few plays later. 17-14, Colts.

Quite a good game, this one.

Dave Bernreuther: Olsen harkens back to TMQ: “You don’t dance with the champ; knock him out!” And even without the benefit of the flipped field, given that it’s near halftime, Frank Reich does the Frank Reich thing: On fourth-and-1 from the 4, he eschews a field goal to go from a one-score game to a one-score game; the Bucs are the No. 1 offense, and you need points.

Verily, the football gods smile, rewarding the Colts with a score, as Wentz rolls right and finds T.Y. Hilton for the touchdown. 24-14 Colts.

Bryan Knowles: I’m pretty sure if you let Carson Wentz scramble for a first down on third-and-15, you have to just leave the building. I think that’s part of the NFL bylaws, somewhere near the back of the rulebook.

That Wentz scramble came during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half; a stop would have let the Buccaneers have a chance to take a lead before going into halftime. Instead, with new life, Wentz was able to move the ball downfield, converting a third-and-10 with a big pass to Jack Doyle, and then finding T.Y. Hilton on fourth-and-1 from inside the 5 for the score and the 24-14 lead.

Dave Bernreuther: Oh man, the stickiness of these gloves bites Rock Ya-Sin in the ass, as a deep ball that Brady threw *just* out of Scotty Miller’s reach draws a flag because of a bit of jersey stretch … from Ya-Sin’s pinky finger.

Can’t not throw that flag, especially since it looked bad in real time, but that didn’t prevent Miller from catching it, and the Bucs pick up a huge chunk of yardage. So we go from the Colts moving the ball to open the half, to a sack-fumble, to a negative-ALEX throw on third-and-long that Gronk converts, to a third Fournette touchdown in the span of just a few minutes. That’s a really big swing.

Bryan Knowles: The Colts opening drive was looking really, really good—until Wentz took a huge sack from Shaq Barrett, lost the ball, and saw Tampa Bay recover. Oops. So, instead of going up by at least 13 points, they had to watch as Brady pulled a Wentz and took advantage of a deep pass interference call to get the ball into the red zone, with Fournette punching it in a couple plays later. 24-21 Colts, and you don’t want to give the Bucs extra life like that!

Bryan Knowles: Michael Pittman is 6-foot-4. Antoine Winfield is 5-foot-9, and I wonder if that number isn’t a little exaggerated. This should not be possible.

This eventually leads to a Bucs touchdown (though it required some PI in the end zone to finalize it), and Tampa Bay has retaken the lead, 27-24. That’s two major turnovers for the Colts in two drives in the second half, both of which lead to Tampa Bay touchdowns.

Dave Bernreuther: I’m not objective here, and when I at least attempt to be, my verdict is “none of them should be called, and Wentz doesn’t deserve to be bailed out,” but if you’re going to call Ya-Sin’s pinky and bail out the Bucs on third-and-8 when Cameron Brate initiated contact, you should probably also have called Antoine Winfield for barely grabbing Pittman on his interception.

Just an awful swing for the Colts, who could have taken a three-score lead and instead now trail. At least it’s still only the third.

Here’s something worth noting, and why I love Frank Reich: The Colts, with their great run blocking and Jonathan Taylor, have called 24 straight passes. Game plan for the team you’re playing.

Bryan Knowles: The Colts finally get a three-and-out and stop Tampa Bay’s offense; just what they needed to get back into this game! Nyheim Hines goes back to receive the punt … but he muffs it, and Chris Godwin falls on top of it inside the red zone. That’s a backbreaker, that. But the Colts defense stands up again, holding the Bucs to a field goal, and so it’s still just a seven-point game. The Colts have turned the ball over three times in the second half, but they still have a chance…

Bryan Knowles: I should also note that the Colts haven’t called a running play in the second half, and haven’t given Jonathan Taylor a touch since 6:37 left in the second quarter. It’s hard to call Taylor a legit MVP candidate when his team has gone this long without using him!

Scott Spratt: Well the Colts were up 10 points when they gave Taylor his last carry and now are down seven. Maybe it has strengthened his case?

Bryan Knowles: I have never been a fan of the Proof by Negation method of selecting awards!

Dave Bernreuther: Taylor has gotten it going on this drive, owing partly to the Bucs playing pass on every down, so surely we’ll get to hear an onslaught of whining that they should have done this all along, with no regard to the reality of the game script and defensive calls. Sure enough, the Bucs bring in the bigs again, and Taylor ends up going nowhere. Forced into a third-and-6 … the Colts go back to the air, and T.Y. Hilton is wide-open for the conversion.

On first-and-goal, even into a run look from under center, Taylor just hammers one in from the 4. That’s exactly the drive the Colts needed after the horrid first 20 minutes of the half.

Bryan Knowles: So, of course, the Colts next drive starts with three consecutive Taylor runs, and then four more Taylor runs, and then a Taylor run for a touchdown after that. I was not aware Frank Reich read this email chain!

But giving the ball to Tom Brady with 3:33 left in a tie game feels somewhat suboptimal, and the Bucs look to try to drain the rest of the clock to get into field goal range. A funny thing happens, however—Leonard Fournette gets an open lane and just runs 30 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown instead. Question for the group: should he have fallen down? The Bucs now have a seven-point lead with 20 seconds left. A field goal isn’t a guarantee, but it was a high probability play from the 1. And 20 seconds isn’t a ton of time, but it is more than zero seconds…

I’d be fine with the score, were I a Bucs fan; I prefer getting points when you can get them and you’re not actively winning, but there’s at least a discussion there…

And to that point, the Colts return the kickoff 72 yards, and the Colts have a chance with 10 seconds left!

Scott Spratt: Tom Brady’s two-minute drill went about how you’d expect: eight plays, 75 yards, and a likely game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left. But with the game not technically over, Isaiah Rodgers provided this amazing return:

The Colts have a prayer!

Aaron Schatz: Let us now praise two men who helped make Leonard Fournette’s game-winning touchdown run possible: guard Alex Cappa with the kickout block and Mike Evans keeping a Colts defensive back off of Fournette for the last 10 yards.

Bryan Knowles: Fittingly, Wentz’s Hail Mary is intercepted in the end zone, and Tampa Bay survives. Bucs fans probably didn’t enjoy those last 20 seconds, but a win is a win is a win.

Dave Bernreuther: Unpopular take: Nobody will ever admit this, but Tom Brady didn’t make a single difficult or impressive throw at all today. His team still scored 38 points on the road despite multiple turnovers, and I can’t decide if that says more about the overall talent level of the Bucs or of the Colts. Probably a bit of both.

6-6 still somehow feels right for these Colts, but man … they’re also arguably a few plays away from the 1 seed in an AFC without any dominant teams anymore. But it’s hard to argue that a team with so many bad turnovers that routinely blows double-digit leads deserves a better fate than they have so far.

They’re likely to (already are, on twitter) hear a lot of criticism for the pass-heavy start to the half, but given the Bucs’ strengths and how they played the run early on, it absolutely made sense. Wentz was playing well, guys were open, and the passing game was working better than the run game by a wide margin. The Winfield pick was an imperfect pass with an undeniably bad outcome, but the strip-sack was worse, and of course the real killer was Hines muffing a punt, which had nothing to do with the play calling.

If you ask me, the biggest issue with the game plan itself was one with which Steelers fans are familiar: it’s generally a bad idea to leave Rob Gronkowski completely wide open on multiple passing downs.

New York Jets 21 at Houston Texans 14

Vince Verhei: “Why are you watching the Jets and Texans?” asked the voice inside my head.

“Because something hysterical is bound to happen sooner or later” replied the other voice inside my head.

That set up a field goal and a 3-0 lead for New York.

Cale Clinton: Texans-Jets: the defensive battle nobody asked for. Tyrod Taylor is picked off by John Franklin-Meyers on the Texans opening drive, returned all the way back to Houston’s 37-yard-line. Zach Wilson, in his first game back from injury, takes a sack on third-and-goal from Houston’s 4-yard-line to set up the short field goal.

New York forces a three-and-out on the ensuing Texans drive, then Wilson throws a pick of his own! We’re in for a long one, folks.

Vince Verhei: This game is everything I could have ever hoped for.

Vince Verhei: Just to report on the actual football here: Texans lead 14-11 at halftime. Tyrod Taylor threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brevin Jordan and a 40-yarder to Brandin Cooks. The Jets got that early field goal and then a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive with somebody named Austin Walter running in a short touchdown and then Josh Johnson coming in to run in a two-point conversion. Zach Wilson is not injured—he came on to take a knee at the end of the half—but given his typical dreadful production (14 dropbacks, 26 net yards with an interception), maybe Johnson should take over in the second half anyway.

Vince Verhei: Jets get a game-tying field goal on their first drive of the second half, but Houston lineman Ross Blacklock is flagged for leverage. So take the field goal off the board and give the Jets a first-and-goal at the 8. Wilson is sacked, but Blacklock is flagged again, this time for offsides, and it’s first-and-goal at the 4. Wilson scrambles in from there for the score and the Jets go up 18-14, as we all expected.

Vince Verhei: Your confusing coaching nominee: Texans have a fourth-and-10 at the Jets’ 37, down 18-14, and they … try a field goal? From 55 yards out? When you’re probably going to miss from that distance, and even if you hit, you’re still behind? Indeed, they do miss the kick, and the Jets take over.

Vince Verhei: So after the Texans miss a field goal when they should have gone for it, the Jets take over and go for it on fourth-and-5 and fourth-and-1, converting both times. They did line up for a field goal on the second one before calling timeout, then handing off to Elijah Moore for the conversion. That gives New York a first-and-goal at the 8 … which quickly becomes fourth-and-goal at the 19. Sigh. So they end up kicking the field goal anyway and the unorthodox 21-14 lead.

Vince Verhei: Jets hang on for the victory. Realistically, the game ended when Rex Burkhead was stuffed for a loss on third-and-1 and Tyrod Taylor’s pass on fourth-and-2 sailed away from Nico Collins wide.

Rivers McCown: Vince, I am stunned that I’m not the only person on the listserv that watched this game in full and would request that you seek help.

Anyway, I wrote about this game. Did you know there are only six games left in this season? I love that for me.

Vince Verhei: I had a fifth screen open and the options were Jets-Texans or Falcons-Jaguars. I … think I made the right choice?

Atlanta Falcons 21 at Jacksonville Jaguars 14

Bryan Knowles: The Falcons offense had gone into hibernation; I believe it was 27 straight drives without a touchdown, which is somewhat less than ideal. Well, the streak is finally over—Cordarrelle Patterson, back after battling knee and elbow injuries, finally manages to dive and stretch the ball into the end zone. Playing the Jaguars is a nice cure for what ails you, apparently! 7-0 Falcons late in the first.

Pittsburgh Steelers 10 at Cincinnati Bengals 41

Vince Verhei: We have come to the end of a very eventful first quarter. Bengals took the opening drive and marched 75 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Lots of Joe Mixon, including a 25-yard run, and then Joe Burrow scrambles for an 8-yard touchdown.

Cincinnati then gets an interception on miscommunication on Pittsburgh’s first drive.

That sets them up at the 5-yard line, but on third-and-goal from the 1, Burrow is sacked for a loss of 12. Bengals settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

Pittsburgh comes out and goes right back to Claypool, and he rewards their faith with a 41-yard gain into Cincinnati territory. They get to the doorstep of the red zone when Ben Roethlisberger throws incomplete on first, second, and third down, and the Steelers get their own field goal, with Chris Boswell’s kick just barely slipping in the left upright.

Bengals will have a second down near midfield to start the second quarter.

Vince Verhei: That’s three scores in three drives for Cincinnati as this beauty of a grab by Tee Higgins puts them up 17-3.

Dave Bernreuther: I have this on TV 2, but haven’t given it too much attention. When I have looked at it, though, I have noticed one of two things: either Joe Burrow looks fantastic, or Ben Roethlisberger looks terrible.

They’re going to half now in a 31-3 Bengals lead, so it would seem that even my lazy and small sample size analysis is decently accurate.

Vince Verhei: Steelers defense finally get a stop as Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepts a Burrow pass just short of the Steelers goal line. Unfortunately, the interception is a double-edged sword, and Roethlisberger responds with one of his own, and the results are much worse:

That’s Mike Hilton, former Steelers star and the human defeats machine, doing in his former team.

So it’s 31-3 at halftime, and Mixon has been the star of the show. He’s already up to 20 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown, and again, it’s only halftime.

Rob Weintraub: I was asked what I really wanted for Chanukah, and I said, “The Bengals kicking the Steelers’ collective ass all over Paul Brown Stadium.” Ask and ye shall receive!

I have spent enough time in this space lamenting the constant losing at the hands of Pittsburgh, so to win three in a row, and sweep the Steelers for the first time since 2009, and do so emphatically, is almost beyond my ability to fathom. But believe me, I’ll dwell on it…

As they did last Sunday, the Bengals took advantage of teams trying to deny Ja’Marr Chase deep to run the ball effectively, the difference being this week it started on the opening drive. Joe Mixon ran for 49 yards on the first series, which ended in a Joe Burrow scramble touchdown. Mix wound up with 164 yards (career high) and two scores, to go with 123 and two touchdowns last Sunday. During the bye week, the Zac Taylor/Brian Callahan/Frank Pollack brain trust apparently decided they would use more cutback zone runs and consistently add a sixth lineman, Isaiah Prince, to the attack. Through two games and 357 rush yards, it has been a success. In the passing game, they used a variety of chip blocks to quiet T.J. Watt, a non-entity today, and went after Joe Haden’s replacement, James Pierre, with Tee Higgins, who had 118 yards on six catches and a Clemson-style high-point grab for a score.

Defensively, Trey Hendrickson continued his fantastic season by creating three turnovers, including the Mike Hilton revenge pick-six, which was caused by Hendrickson shoving his blocker into Roethlisberger. Hilton shut down Hunter Renfrow last week and has been a key voice in creating the all-important culture in the locker room that we will be unveiling a metric to track analytically next week—stay tuned!

Cincinnati’s three division wins over Pittsburgh (twice) and Baltimore have been by a combined score of 106-37. Of course they also lost to Cleveland 41-16. But coming out of a two-game skid by winning a pair of games by a combined 50 points is a credit to the talent and belief the team has at the moment. Also: just three penalties on the Bengals today, 43 on the season, easily the lowest in the NFL to date.

By the way, the Bengals only loss on the day was the coin flip, which Cincy lost for the sixth straight game after calling it right on 11 in a row. They’re pretty much guaranteed to lose 11 straight now, right?

Light the Menorah!

Philadelphia Eagles 7 at New York Giants 13

Carl Yedor: This one is a bit of a snoozer to this point. Saquon Barkley has a 32-yard-run and -1 rushing yard on his other five carries. Philadelphia put together a nice drive at the end of the half, but they fail to score after a Boston Scott touchdown run gets called back due to penalty and Jalen Hurts throws a pick on the last play of the half. The Giants have a field goal to show for their efforts. Ugly game so far.

Vince Verhei: Eagles have a first-and-goal at the 2, trailing 3-0 with 15 seconds left in the second quarter and one timeout. First down, Greg Ward is open, but he fails to reel in a high-difficulty catch. One of those half-drop, half-overthrow plays. Second down, Jalen Hurts keeps on a draw and is stuffed for no gain, and they use their last timeout. Third-and-goal, Hurts takes the snap and drifts, drifts, drifts … and the clock expires, so now it’s touchdown or bust with the field goal off the table. Instead he forces the ball to a defender for a mostly meaningless interception.

That’s two interceptions for Hurts today with only 73 yards passing. The Giants are smothering his receivers downfield and leaving him nowhere to throw. The Eagles are lucky they are only down by three—Graham Geno hit a field goal from 35 yards out, but missed from 51.

Vince Verhei: Eagles have a third-and-2 at the New York 40 on their first drive of the second half, but Hurts throws back-to-back incompletions and the Giants take over on downs. They quickly get a first-and-goal at the 1, where you can’t stop Chris Myarick, you can only hope to contain him. Jones’ pass to the backup tight end goes through the receiver’s hands, but Myarick pins the ball between his knees for the score.

So it’s 10-0 Giants, and that point we cue Yakkety Sax. Eagles throw a short completion on first down, but a penalty makes it first-and-18, when Hurts lobs up a bad interception into double-coverage. Given the gift of good field position, the Giants give the ball to Darius Slayton, who is tackled for a loss of 13, and the Giants end up punting the ball back to Philadelphia anyway.

Vince Verhei: Jalen Hurts can’t throw today. At the end of the third quarter, he’s still at 73 yards passing and now with three interceptions. But he sure can run—he’s up to 77 yards on the ground now, and with gains of 12, 13, and 13 yards on their last drive, he has the Eagles in a goal-to-go situation at the start of the fourth. Boston Scott scores on a 1-yard plunge, and we have got a ballgame at 10-7.

Vince Verhei: Eagles get one last possession with a chance to take the lead. Hurts keeps throwing should-be interceptions, but the Giants keep dropping them. On fourth-and-10, Hurts throws deep to Jalen Reagor, who jumps up just short of the goal line and gets both hands on the ball … and it goes right through them and incomplete. Giants win.

Minnesota Vikings 26 at San Francisco 49ers 34

Bryan Knowles: A story of two terrors in this game. 49ers fans are petrified at the idea of Justin Jefferson going up against their secondary, home of the defensive pass interference and big plays allowed. Vikings fans have flashbacks to the 2019 divisional round, where the 49ers simply ran all over their defensive line, and they are missing all four of their starting linemen today. Whichever defensive unit can fail the least probably ends up deciding this one.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers are very concerned about Justin Jefferson. To the point where, on a flea flicker, three defenders went to chase him down. Unfortunately, that left zero to cover Adam Thielen who, it turns out, is also very good at football. That gets the Vikings down into the red zone, and while the 49ers hold up for a bit, Cousins finds Thielen on fourth down for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.

The Vikings had the ball in good field position because of an old friend we haven’t seen in a few weeks—the Obligatory Jimmy Garoppolo Interception. The Vikings are moving their safeties around post-snap, and Garoppolo has always struggled with that, letting Harrison Smith get a pretty easy interception.

Bryan Knowles: And the game is joined. Brandon Aiyuk, firmly out of the doghouse by now, gets wide-open for 37 yards, followed by Elijah Mitchell, back from his hand injury, with a couple of big runs. Deebo Samuel takes a handoff and scores, becoming the first wide receiver with a rushing touchdown in three straight games this century, and it’s 7-7.

And it’s chippy, with Aiyuk and Harrison Smith getting into some shouting and shoving after the score. Something to watch going forward…

Vince Verhei: A major theme in the Almanac this year was “the 49ers have a half-dozen options at running back—who will emerge as the dominant ballcarrier?” So of course the answer is “none of the above—they’ll just move a starting wide receiver into the backfield instead.”

Bryan Knowles: Kirk Cousins is beginning to pick apart the 49ers secondary, and a lot of it is aimed at Josh Norman, who has the faintest whiff of cooked bread at this point in time. Justin Jefferson burns him a couple times for about 40 yards on back-to-back plays, and then with everyone focusing on trying to stop him, Adam Thielen gets open again for his second touchdown of the day.

Scott Spratt: Adam Thielen is up to 39 receiving touchdowns since the start of 2018. That ties him with Mike Evans for third among all players and trailing just Tyreek Hill (42) and Davante Adams (41). No one else has more than 31.

Bryan Knowles: It’s peanuts compared to the last two weeks, but the 49ers just put together a 15-play drive that ate up 8:20 off the clock. They got the ball with 8:38 remaining in the half. Apparently, the 49ers can just run out quarters almost at will.

It’s tied at 14 with 18 seconds left in the half—the Vikings do still have three timeouts left, and had a pretty good kickoff return, so we’ll see if they can’t add a last-second field goal here before we hit the locker room.

Bryan Knowles: Deebo Samuel today: zero catches, zero yards. Five carries, 72 yards, and two touchdowns. I guess he’s just a running back now! He and Cordarrelle can start a club.

Scott Spratt: It’s just mean-spirited how Kyle Shanahan manufactures these ways to bury Trey Sermon deeper on the depth chart, Bryan.

Bryan Knowles: Well, Sermon got hurt today … and received zero carries before he did, so yeah. Emotional support mid-round running back is an important position on the 49ers, with Sermon replacing Joe Williams.

On the ensuing drive, Kirk Cousins returns Garoppolo’s terrible interception from earlier in the game—Shanahan has a type in quarterbacks, I guess—and Elijah Mitchell punches it in a few plays later. The 49ers have scored three touchdowns in the past 11 plays from scrimmage and have opened a 28-14 lead. That’s a nightmare for the Vikings, as all the 49ers want to do is run clock; they can’t let the 49ers get the ball back with a two-score lead, or they’ll manufacture some sort of 21-minute drive to run this thing out.

Bryan Knowles: How do you respond to that, if you’re the Vikings? You let Jefferson Cook. 30-yard Dalvin Cook run, 15-yard pass to Jefferson, 24-yard pass FROM Jefferson to Cook. Get your stars involved! The Jefferson-to-Cook play was a throwback screen—the 49ers tried one earlier in the game that flopped, so the Vikings decided to show how it was done. Alexander Mattison punches the ball into the end zone from there, but the extra point is no good, so the 49ers hold onto a 28-20 lead. That was very fast.

Bryan Knowles: The Vikings stiffen up and force the 49ers to settle for a long field goal, which makes this a two-score game again … for about 15 seconds, before Kene Nwangwu takes the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to paydirt. This is the second long return for Nwangwu today, and he has had a number of these all season long; it’s his second kickoff return touchdown this year.

Bryan Knowles: This is a brutal game sometimes. On back-to-back plays, both Dalvin Cook and Deebo Samuel get hurt—Cook carted off the field with what looks to be some kind of pec injury; Samuel under his own power after taking a shot to the head. Ugh.

Vince Verhei: Your latest entry in the “sometimes Kirk Cousins looks like he has never played a game of football before” catalog:

Bryan Knowles: Just to put a capper on this, Cousins lining up under guard means they had to burn their second timeout, and then they failed on fourth down. The 49ers then tried to drain the last nine minutes off the clock, or at least go down and score again, but they failed at both—Robbie Gould missed a 40-something-yarder just after the two-minute warning, leaving the Vikings with the ball and no timeouts, down eight points. They made some brief movement downfield, because every Vikings game has to come down to the wire, but Cousins missed Jefferson on fourth down to end this one. 49ers go to 6-5 and are in the sixth seed. But because the rest of the NFC wild-card picture lost, too, the Vikings, at 5-6, are clinging onto the seventh seed, pending Monday Night Football. We may well see both these teams in January, as much as this one was billed (and felt like!) a playoff atmosphere.

Los Angeles Chargers 13 at Denver Broncos 28

Scott Spratt: The Broncos benefitted from this week’s edition of “was it a pass or was it a fumble?” as Derwin James smashed Teddy Bridgewater from the blind side. But the Broncos may be the bigger-picture losers because the hit has forced Bridgewater to the sidelines. Drew Lock is in.

Vince Verhei: Some bullet points from the first 15 minutes in Colorado:

  • Chargers: two drives, two three-and-outs.
  • Before he was injured, Bridgewater got the Broncos on the board with an 11-yard touchdown run on second-and-goal.
  • Two plays after Bridgewater left, Joey Bosa sacked Lock and forced a fumble, but the Broncos recovered and advanced the ball for a first down. On that play, Broncos lineman Calvin Anderson was injured and had to be carted off the field.

Vince Verhei: The Broncos, like most teams, have run all over L.A. in the first half, rushing for 108 yards and eight first downs through two quarters. But in a two-minute situation, they throw three straight passes, and the third is intercepted by Derwin James, undercutting Kendall Hinton on a quick out. Chargers take over in Denver territory and have their first good drive of the day. Justin Herbert hits Keenan Allen for 18 yards on third-and-7 and 14 yards on the next play, then goes on to throw a 12-yard touchdown to Austin Ekeler. That cuts Denver’s halftime margin to 14-7.

Vince Verhei: Chargers drive into Broncos territory to open the second half, but Dustin Hopkins misses from 52 yards out. Looks like his plant foot slipped, and the kick was nowhere close.

This has been your #ChargersSpecialTeams mention of the week.

Vince Verhei: Teddy Bridgewater has returned to the game for Denver. He promptly threw two incompletions as the Broncos went three-and-out, but hey, he’s back.

Vince Verhei: Fourth-and-4 in Denver territory, Herbert hangs in the pocket forever, drifts out to his left, then throws back across the field to Jalen Guyton, who runs for the first down after the catch. But then on third-and-14, Herbert lofts the ball to Jared Cook, and Patrick Surtain high-points the ball for the interception. Denver takes over, still up 14-7 and we’re into the fourth quarter now.

Vince Verhei: Broncos drive 80 yards in 10 plays for the score. Lots of YAC on the drive, most notably on this big play by Javonte Williams:

The flag on that play was for roughing the passer for good measure. Bridgewater went on to throw a touchdown to Eric Saubert on third-and-goal from the 1. That puts Denver up 21-7 with less than nine minutes to go.

Vince Verhei: Herbert’s pass goes off of Ekeler’s fingers and Surtain gets his second interception of the fourth quarter. This one’s a house call, the Broncos now lead 28-7, and this game’s over.

Los Angeles Rams 28 at Green Bay Packers 36

Dave Bernreuther: I am not a fan of punts in any situation, but when it’s fourth-and-10, it’s imperfect weather outdoors on grass, and your field goal kicker has missed eight times this year, I’m not sure that I’d want to attempt a 57-yard field goal, which is what it appears Matt LaFleur is doing.

Oh, OK, he called timeout and changed his mind … but the punt is a bit short, netting only about 25 yards. Well jeez. If you’re not going to try to pin them super deep, just keep the offense on the field!

Aaron Schatz: Terrible pocket awareness for Matthew Stafford as Rashan Gary takes him down and strips the ball. The Packers recovered at the Rams 6, so it was pretty easy for the Packers to get it in on three plays. Rodgers ran it himself after a play fake to AJ Dillon, so it’s 7-0 Packers.

Scott Spratt: The often conservative Sean McVay (25th in EdjSports’ Critical Call Index) decided to go for a fourth-and-1 at his own 29-yard line at the end of the first quarter. Darrell Henderson looked like he had a hole, but Packers safety Adrian Amos came in hard and flipped Henderson head over heels.

Amazing play by Amos to force a turnover on downs.

Aaron Schatz: Rams held Packers to 2 yards after that failed fourth down, so a field goal makes it 10-0.

Bryan Knowles: Things the Rams needed: That. Van Jefferson just burns Chandon Sullivan, Stafford finds him deep down field, and it’s a 79-yard score. This was threatening to get out of hand quickly here, but the Rams are now down just 10-7.

Aaron Schatz: No safety help because the Packers were concentrating on stopping Cooper Kupp in the middle of the field, which honestly is not the worst decision on a third-and-long.

Aaron Schatz: The Packers are really concentrating on stopping Cooper Kupp today, coming down hard on all the Rams’ short passes, and so far it is working. Also, Odell Beckham has just one catch on four targets for 5 yards. The Rams are only down 13-10 because of a muffed punt by Randall Cobb, but the Packers held them to 7 yards and a field goal after the muff. At one point it looked like a backwards pass to Kupp had led to a Van Jefferson touchdown in the corner of the end zone but after review it was clear Jefferson had come down out of bounds.

Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams is still one of the prettier connections in the league.

This led to a Randal Cobb touchdown a few plays later as the Packers re-extend their lead to 10 points.

Bryan Knowles: Cooper Kupp has just hit a new career high for receiving yards in a season. It’s Week 12.

Aaron Schatz: I keep waiting to notice that the Packers are using a third-string left tackle and so far I really haven’t noticed. Not a lot of pass pressure from the Von Miller-Leonard Floyd combination so far.

Aaron Schatz: Packers go for a fourth-and-2 and convert with a pass to Josiah Deguara. Then AJ Dillon scores a touchdown on an angle route, or as Troy Aikman refers to it, “H Post.” That’s the third touchdown today on that exact same route: Randall Cobb, Darrell Henderson, and now Dillon.

Scott Spratt: That’s a back-breaker for the Rams. J.J. Koski just fumbled a punt to give the ball back to the Packers on a short field up 27-17 late in the third quarter. You may never have heard of Koski, but he’s actually the Rams’ No. 4 wide receiver currently. They are running out of bodies.

Aaron Schatz: Good coverage keeps the Packers to a field goal so 31-17, it’s not quite over yet. Also, Yosh Nijman, the backup left tackle, finally had his name mentioned—for something good, recovering a Marcedes Lewis fumble.

Vince Verhei: The Packers and Rams social media teams handled the Rasul Douglas pick-six in slightly different manners:

Baltimore Ravens 16 at Cleveland Browns 10

Scott Spratt: I’m not sure how much this will matter for a team that leans on multiple running backs and tight ends, but the Browns made Rashard Higgins a healthy inactive tonight with a murderer’s row of Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja’Marcus Bradley, and JoJo Natson available to play at wide receiver. I’m curious what’s up with the receiver because a couple of years ago, Freddie Kitchens mysteriously buried Higgins on his depth chart and spawned a lot of theories about whether he was in his coach’s dog house. And this is a different coaching staff with Kevin Stefanski.

Scott Spratt: Well that’s a weird one. The Ravens just faked a punt on a fourth-and-2 from their 33-yard line and ran for an apparent first down. But the refs retroactively ruled that a non-play because the Browns weren’t given enough time to match personnel on the switch to special teams. Then the Browns called timeout, and then they had 12 men on the field and gave the Ravens a new first down automatically. OK, sure.

Vince Verhei: I’m so glad you recapped that, because I don’t have nearly enough energy. This feels like a preseason game, not a Thanksgiving weekend contest between two playoff contenders.

Scott Spratt: I’d put the over/under that I made 2.5 mistakes in that explanation.

Vince Verhei: And now the Browns get called for illegal formation on a kickoff return. Did they bring back Hue Jackson and nobody told me?

Aaron Schatz: I’m surprised by how much the Browns are throwing at Marlon Humphrey tonight. Do they not know Anthony Averett is on the field?

Bryan Knowles: Of all the potential problems the Browns had tonight, I didn’t think “Jarvis Landry’s lack of pocket awareness” would be one of them.

Scott Spratt: I guess Landry can take solace in that Lamar Jackson threw a deflected interception two plays later.

Tom Gower: The downside of the Shanahan-style offense is that a lot of the guys tend to run what they run, and vary in how much they scheme to individual matchups. Aaron’s email came just after the 41-yard pass to Harrison Bryant with Humphrey in sort-of like coverage. That play in particular was very much schematic rather than matchup-based, designed to attack the Ravens’ alignment and how much the defense was focused around the run. Humphrey is the corner who plays that area, but that wasn’t a man coverage scenario so it would have been whichever corner the defense aligned there. And I get it—the play beat the coverage there, for good results for the offense. But it can sometimes feel kind of dumb when things don’t go right.

Scott Spratt: That was an incredible announcer curse to run those graphics about how Baltimore has owned Cleveland in recent decades just before Lamar Jackson threw an interception in his own territory. Suddenly, if the Browns can go 30 yards, they can have a halftime lead.

Scott Spratt: Ha, and then an incredible announcer curse by me when Baker Mayfield mishandled a snap and the Ravens recovered the fumble. This is back to looking like a 6-3 halftime score in favor of the Ravens.

Tom Gower: Sorry, Scott, Baker Mayfield only ran 12 yards backwards before fumbling the ball away on an attempt to actually complete a screen pass that was probably set up.

Vince Verhei: I think, if given the opportunity, both teams would agree to pretend that first half never happened and just start this game over.

Scott Spratt: It’s difficult to look past the five turnovers these teams committed in the final three and half minutes of the half. But if I can stretch for a broader observation, I’ll say that it snuck up on me that the Ravens are so dramatically better in defending the run (sixth in DVOA) than the pass (25th). But that fact has popped so far tonight with the Browns even with Kareem Hunt back—and Jack Conklin back temporarily before injuring his knee—have managed just 21 rushing yards on 2.1 yards per carry.

Bryan Knowles: We finally get a touchdown, but it isn’t exactly miles away from the nonsense that ended the first half. Jackson had to backpedal 15 or 20 yards against a pass rush that came at him basically uninhibited, and then threw a lollypop that Mark Andrews was able to get underneath. I mean, it’s fitting for this game, I guess!

Vince Verhei: The Ravens’ entire passing game at this point is “totally underthrow Mark Andrews and watch him come down with it anyway.”

Vince Verhei: Cleveland came into the week leading the league in rush offense DVOA.

Through three quarters tonight: 13 carries, 26 yards, one first down.

Bryan Knowles: Well, they tried the underthrow to Andrews play again, and they dialed it up one too many times. Four interceptions for Lamar on the night, which is crazy.

There have been five four-interception days in 2021, after just two in 2020. You don’t expect a former MVP to be doing it, but here we are…

Bryan Knowles: I feel like I’m required by law to sub in for Aaron and go “oh no! Baltimore kicked the field goal to go up six!”

Considering it was fourth-and-8, I actually don’t hate it, though that holding call to push them back really put them between a rock and a hard place.

Tom Gower: The verdict from the corporate overlords:

Great job by Tyus Bowser in coverage the last two plays, tightly covering Austin Hooper to break up the pass on third down and then bringing down David Njoku short of the sticks on fourth. The Ravens did a lot wrong, some right (Hunt and Chubb finished with 15 carries for 36 yards), and won a divisional game against a non-dead team where they finished -2 in turnover margin and didn’t play well.





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