Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the Week 10 Sunday afternoon games...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Baker Mayfield Saves Christmas: It was just as ugly as the rest of the season, and even the key plays on the final drive were far from beautiful (throwing over the wrong shoulder on the deep crosser to Jarvis Landry, the mis-timed jet sweep touch pass that looked like a scoop-and-score fumble for the Bills but instead was ruled an incomplete pass). The important thing is they made it to the end zone, Mayfield finding Rashard Higgins as the QB posted his first multi-TD game of the season. At 3-6, and with a soft schedule left to play, the playoffs are still, somehow, within reach for 2019’s most disappointing team (thus far).
Minkah Fitzpatrick Is Saving the Steelers’ Season: It’s not just the touchdowns and interceptions (though the touchdowns and interceptions are nice). Pittsburgh is suddenly creative, aggressive and dangerous on the back end.
Packers D Bends, Doesn’t Break: They stopped the Panthers inches short of the goal line on the final play of the game to go along with a red-zone interception in the third quarter. Situational football carried the day, as the Panthers rolled up 401 yards but only 16 points.
Dan Quinn Might Not Survive the Season, But . . . : He has had a great run in Atlanta, and his guys are still playing for him. His defense had its best performance of 2019, heating up Drew Brees and shutting down the Saints on the road.
For One Week, Trubisky Looked Pretty O.K.: Perhaps it’s deserving of an asterisk since it came against Matt Patricia’s sieve of a defense, and the Bears probably lose by double-digits if the Lions have Matthew Stafford under center, but they’ll surely take anything positive when it comes to Trubisky right now.
Derrick Henry With a Head of Steam: Apparently, the Titans weren’t tempted by the Chiefs linebackers’ struggles in space this year—Dion Lewis didn’t have a single touch on Sunday. Instead, it was Henry steam-rolling, including a 68-yard TD run. On the day, he had 23 carries for 188 yards.
Hey Look, It’s the Jets!: And they’re doing stuff! They came out fast against the Giants, then kind of took a nap for awhile, but had enough to get back in it with three scoring drives in the final 17 minutes. And with that, the Jets win the coveted 2019 Spike Bowl.
Joe Haden Is Still Really Good: The overwhelming pass rush helped, but Haden got the best of whomever he lined up against on Sunday, often Cooper Kupp. He also baited Jared Goff into an interception out of zone coverage, and jumped the route to create the deflection that led to Minkah Fitzpatrick's game-sealing interception.
The Legend of Ryan Tannehill: He started as a not very good but sometimes O.K. quarterback. And now look at him, a not very good but sometimes O.K. quarterback who won a game against the Chiefs. It was an impressive game-winning drive, picking up a chunk with his legs, then finding Anthony Firkser for 20 and Adam Humphries for the game-winning 23-yard TD. (The rest of the game was all Derrick Henry though, with a little help from the Chiefs special teams.)
Jets Erase Saquon Barkley: The Jets defense was ready to swarm, and Barkley had to work for every yard he got. Which was one yard. Thirteen carries for one yard.
Mason Rudolph, Trusting What He Sees: He’s still not there, but against the Rams he made a couple of anticipatory throws that we hadn’t seen from him. Minkah Fitzpatrick is not going to keep scoring points, but if Rudolph keeps progressing, the Steelers are staying in the Wild-Card conversation.
Jon Feliciano Is Everywhere You Want Him to Be: The Bills guard had a game-saving recovery of Josh Allen’s fourth-quarter, third-down, red-zone fumble at the 1-yard line. It converted the first down and two plays later the Bills were in for the go-ahead touchdown.
Mahomes and Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman: Even with a scotch-taped offensive line, the Chiefs can score from anywhere at anytime. (Well, unless the field goal unit is coming out in Nashville, apparently.)
Buffalo’s Eight-Play Goal-Line Stand: From Buffalo’s 1, the Browns got two pass-interference calls in the end zone but couldn’t get in with a series of Nick Chubb runs. In the second quarter, the Bills stuffed Cleveland three more times from inside the 2. Cleveland lined up to go for it on fourth down before a false start (which was also, depending on how you view it, a merciful act of God) forced them to settle for a field goal.
Falcons Pass Rush Shows Up at the Oddest Times: They’ve been non-existent throughout the season, except for when they ran roughshod over a very good Eagles line in September, and when they got the better of the Saints in the Superdome on Sunday.
Lamar Jackson’s Late Pitches: Well, I think it’s the coolest thing he does. There are times when Jackson has already run for three or four yards, then, when you think it’s already too late, pitches to Mark Ingram with a full head of steam for six more yards.
Tre’Davious White Eats Up Odell Beckham Jr.: Beckham drew a third-down pass interference flag in the end zone early (the Browns ended up failing to score anyway), but this was a decisive victory for White, and would have been even more decisive had he held on to a Baker Mayfield duck in the fourth quarter.
Marcus Peters Jumping Routes: His second pick-six in three games with the Ravens came off Ryan Finley. A No. 1 cornerback Peters is not, but while he’ll give up plays he’s a takeaway waiting to happen.
Gerald McCoy’s Goal-Line Stand:
Dolphins Winning Streak!: Two in a row. Take that Brian Hoyer Hive.
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Drew Brees and the Saints O-Line Looked Shaky: It’s one game, but they looked really shaky. The O-line couldn’t keep an underwhelming pass rush off Brees (what in the world is going on with Andrus Peat?), and for his part, Brees continued to struggle pushing the ball downfield and was uncharacteristically inaccurate throwing underneath. With Alvin Kamara back, to put up just nine points at home against the Falcons is deeply troubling.
Kyle Allen Has to Protect the Ball: He’s being asked to do no harm, but at Lambeau he turned one over on a botched exchange, and—more damningly—threw an end zone interception when he flat-out lost track of the free defender. It’s Allen’s team now that Cam Newton’s season is over, but it’s looking less and less like that’s a good thing.
Rams Can’t Block Anyone: Like, anyone. They can occasionally hold though, so there’s that. The Rams got nine points from the defense in Pittsburgh, and will continue to be unable to function against opponents with any kind of pass rush.
Brian Hoyer, Yikes: The veteran backup was every bit as bad as his stat line suggests (18-for-39, 204 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT), showing diminished arm strength, sluggish processing and shaky ball placement. That’s a good way to lose to the Miami Dolphins at home.
Mitchell Schwartz Goes Down: Snapping a streak of 7,894 consecutive snaps for the All-Pro right tackle. Even more problematic is the fact that left tackle Eric Fisher is still a week away from returning. And even more problematic is the fact that Martinas Rankin injured his knee immediately after replacing Schwartz. Can Matt Moore block?
Matt Patricia Becoming a Quarterback’s Best Friend: Over the past month, the Lions have made Kirk Cousins, Daniel Jones, and Derek Carr look like Hall of Famers and—most troublingly—Mitchell Trubisky look like a serviceable starting quarterback. I’m not saying it’s a crime the way they’re wasting Matthew Stafford’s best years, but at the very least this warrants an investigation. Patricia’s defense has been severely out-schemed and out-played in those games, three of them losses. After hiring a defensive coach, how many times can you watch his unit get humiliated?
Adam Vinatieri Is an Adventure: And not in a good way. Like that place with the water slides. Or a big way. Like that adventure Pee-Wee had. Another missed PAT kept the Colts from being able to kick a late field goal to tie it, forcing them instead to go for six behind Brian Hoyer on the final drive. (As you now know, that didn’t end well.)
Marshon Lattimore Riding the Bike: He went down with a hamstring injury, spoiling the heavyweight battle with Julio Jones. He’s been playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level; losing him for a significant portion of time would be devastating for the Saints.
Andy Reid and Timeouts: They just don’t get along. After falling behind by a point with 23 seconds left, you can’t burn one of your two timeouts before the two-point conversion attempt. (Or, if you do, you better get a stop, which the Chiefs didn’t.)
Maxx Williams Defeated By the Awesome Power of the Sun: A would-be walk-in touchdown on fourth-and-1.
Cooper Kupp Goes Invisible: Well, except for when he was dropping passes.
The Chiefs’ Operation: They were off on the potential game-tying kick that got blocked too, but this was the disaster. It erased a 46-yard attempt that would have made it an eight-point lead for the Chiefs, and the intentional grounding penalty meant the Titans took over at the 39, after which Ryan Tannehill engineered the game-winning drive.
The Kyler/Kliff Two-Minute Drill: Trailing by three with 1:43 left and one timeout, the Cardinals start with a draw play that goes for three yards. Two plays later they dump it off for a two-yard gain on third-and-7, then spend literally 30 seconds staring at the sideline while the clock ticks, as if they’re in a Big 12 game. They picked up a pass interference on fourth down, but proceeded to pick up a holding penalty and throw two incompletions to end the game.
Johnny Hekker Is Not a Quarterback: If you want to run a fake punt that catches the opponent off-guard, go for it. But having him take a snap and survey the field like an actual QB is not what you do with a punter, and why he ended up throwing an interception.
Stephen Hauschka’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: The one that will keep the Bills kicker up at night was the missed 34-yarder at the end of the first half. He had a chance to redeem himself with a potential game-tying kick at the end of regulation, but was just wide left from 53. (Some days are like that. Even in Australia.)
Nate Hairston Trying to Cover Darius Slayton: Remember, in the 90s, when Mike Tyson was past his prime and fought a series of completely overmatched 30-something stiffs? Well, this matchup was like if one of those overmatched stiffs signed with an NFL team this week at age 50-something and tried to cover Darius Slayton.
Baker Mayfield’s Ball Handling: A near-disaster on a touch pass in the fourth quarter, which was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass. Take those out of the playbook, Freddie Kitchens.
Cardinals Lose Their First Fumble of 2019: David Johnson coughs it up late in the third quarter.
Daniel Jones’s Official Theme Song: He continues to hold the ball with a loose, one-handed grip in a muddy pocket. Jamal Adams flat-out took it from him twice, the second time returning it for a touchdown.
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
The Time Lamar Jackson Ran and Spun and Ran Some More:
This Not-Very-Well Conceived Fake Punt: I’m not sure you want punter Andy Lee, 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, lofting a ball into traffic in the hope of an unintentional back-shoulder throw. But hey, whatever works!
Bortles Returns to Terrify Pittsburgh Again: But only for a moment. And without doing anything scary. Except for not realizing the snap was coming.
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
The Futures of Patricia and Quinn in Detroit: Earlier this week, Quandre Diggs (you might remember him as the star safety the Lions gave away for virtually nothing at the trade deadline) painted a bleak picture of the Lions locker room under the ex-Patriots brain trust of Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn. Those two inherited an MVP-caliber quarterback in Matthew Stafford. But Quinn’s absurdly large investment in the offensive line has resulted in a unit that is league-average on its best days. And, despite the big spend on Trey Flowers for the defense, Patricia’s unit is flat-out bad. You could argue they deserve credit for hiring Darrell Bevell, who has been a quality OC, but what else has gone right over the past two years? The Stafford championship window is closing, and, to paraphrase Sting in "Synchronicity II": We know that something somewhere has to break.
Titans Weren’t Offsides (Probably): On the game-sealing field goal block, it was a combination of a good jump by Josh Kalu, some wasted moment right before it, and the Chiefs’ right side moving late that made it look like Kalu was offside. Though, of course, it’s impossible to say for sure because we haven’t seen a sideline angle of the play.
Who Wants to Be an AFC Wild-Card?: It’s the most mediocre race imaginable, with the Bills falling to 6-3 but holding on to the 5-seed, while the Raiders, Colts and Steelers are all sitting at 5-4 and the Titans 5-5. And, hey, no point in counting out the 4-5 Jaguars, 4-6 Chargers, or 3-6 Browns.
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