Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the Week 7 Sunday afternoon games...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Baker Cracks Open the Comeback Starter Kit: Just like Philip Rivers did a week ago! After another ugly start, he needed the big finish—and good on him for getting it. But frankly, Odell or no Odell, a franchise quarterback with his caliber supporting cast has to light up this Bengals defense.
Baker to Peoples-Jones: The game-winner was a big-time back-shoulder throw to a receiver he hasn’t worked with very much:
Steelers in All Three Phases: At least for most of the game in Nashville. They moved the ball at will in the first half, and defensively they kept the Titans off-schedule. They even got a long punt return from Ray-Ray McCloud to set up a second-quarter touchdown. Trouble came with turnovers in the second half, and the Steelers were on the wrong end of a few fluky plays—along with a deflected INT and an end zone INT that was in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands, there was Vince Williams ducking out of the way of a potential interception that instead became a 73-yard catch-and-run TD for the Titans, and a deflected Tannehill pass on a third-and-long that ended up being caught to keep Tennessee’s first TD drive alive. But it’s not often that you lose the turnover battle 3-0, fail to get a red-zone stop, and still beat a previously undefeated opponent on the road.
Kyle Shanahan Is Some Kind of Magician: After what looked like the beginning of the end against Miami two weeks ago, Shanahan’s offense bounced back nicely against the Rams last week. On Sunday, they ran roughshod over a Bill Belichick defense that hasn’t had a day like this in a long time. If the game wasn’t a blowout, the 49ers could have easily gone for 500 yards of offense and 40 points.
Matthew Stafford Does His Thing: Down six, he had to take the Lions 75 yards in 64 seconds with no timeouts. After an incompletion to start the drive, he hit passes for 13, 22 and 29 (the last one a late-in-the-down special), with clock-stopping spikes in between, to set up the game-tying, late-in-the-down 11-yard laser to T.J. Hockenson (they won it with the PAT, though more on that later). In all, he was 25-for-36 for 340 in Atlanta.
Rodgers-to-Adams: It was back on schedule after an off-day in Tampa. On Aaron Rodgers’s 16 targets to Davante Adams: 13 catches, 196 yards, 2 TDs. If you’d like to argue that they’re the best QB/WR combo in football, that would hold up against a fact-check.
Prater’s PAT From 48 Wins It: The Lions' touchdown as time expired made it 22-22, so Detroit needed the PAT. Thanks to Danny Amendola picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet during the celebration, they had to do it from deep. Prater delivered.
Justin Herbert Is on the Board: Well-deserved after a series of absurdly close losses to MVP-caliber counterparts.
Marcus Davenport’s Sack Seals It: It would have been a long potential game-tying field-goal attempt for the Panthers, but Davenport’s third-down sack—coming on a nice design that had him looping inside with only a running back to pick him up—made it a 65-yard try (that ultimately traveled about 64 yards).
A Day Off for Patrick Mahomes: The defense got a pick-six and Byron Pringle delivered a kickoff return TD in the second quarter, and that’s the formula for putting up 40-plus points when Patrick Mahomes only throws for 200 yards.
Le’Veon Bell in Red and White: Six carries for 39 yards in his Chiefs debut, including one very Le’Veon-like 16-yard run.
The Unmatched Stamina of Tyler Bass’s Right Leg: The Bills rookie became the eighth player in NFL history to attempt eight field goals in a game, and he does it eight weeks away from the eighth night of Hanukkah. (Also, he made six of the kicks. And also, it is seven weeks and five days away from the eighth night of Hanukkah. But still, pretty mind-blowing stuff as long as you ignore some of the facts.)
Bucs Pull Away: The Raiders cut it to 24-20 early in the fourth, but were going without Gabe Jackson after a third-quarter ejection (for reasons that remain unclear). What followed was a Tampa touchdown drive, followed by a first-play interception, followed by another Tampa TD, followed by a four-play turnover on downs, followed by another touchdown. Tom Brady threw for 369 and four touchdowns and they ended up with 45 points. So you can understand why they had no choice but to lower themselves into the sewer to get Antonio Brown.
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Cam’s Honeymoon Has Ended: He threw three more interceptions on Sunday, one an atrocious decision late in the down, one a bad read on a downfield throw, and one an inaccurate throw that Julian Edelman played volleyball with. Though Newton's worst throw of the game was a third-down bounce pass that would have made Dr. James Naismith proud. The thing is, for all the whispers about Jarrett Stidham this offseason, he’s been utterly atrocious in limited duty. (Belichick said after the game that Newton is still the starter.)
A Defensive Implosion in Foxboro: New England’s secondary has kept the defense firm. But you wondered if, at some point, the absence of Dont'a Hightower and departure of Kyle Van Noy, leaving them with an inexperienced and, well, not-very-talented collection of linebackers, would become a factor. It was on Sunday against a Kyle Shanahan offense that exploited them thoroughly on the second level.
Mike Nolan Might Not Survive Until Morning: Three things in defense of the Cowboys’ embattled first-year defensive coordinator: (1) Philosophically, he is the polar opposite of Rod Marinelli/Kris Richard, and transitioning this offseason was going to be rough; (2) Nolan needs good cornerbacks, and the front office let a true No. 1 in Byron Jones walk in order to over-invest at wide receiver, linebacker and running back, and (3) This defense couldn’t tackle anyone playing the more simplistic scheme last year—it’s just not a very good group on the back seven. But sheesh, the number of pure blown coverages and missed tackles this unit has can be measured on a per-play basis.
The Cowboys’ Complete Inability to Tackle: I mean, there’s a quarterback who wears No. 8 and plays in that area of the country who’s really hard to tackle, but it’s not Kyle Allen.
Falcons’ Will to Lose Greater Than Lions’ Will to Lose: It was infuriating watching both these offenses slam the brakes in the second half considering how good the quarterbacks are and how bad the pass defenses are, and neither team is capable of closing out a game. But it was even more incredible watching the Lions make Matthew Stafford overcome as many obstacles as possible on the final drive, from T.J. Hockenson catching a sideline pass with no timeouts and deliberately staying inbounds, to an uncharacteristically drop-prone Danny Amendola costing them 15 yards by removing his helmet while celebrating the game-tying touchdown (yes, it’s a dumb rule, but everyone knows it's a rule), backing them up 15 yards for the game-winning PAT.
The Falcons Outright Refuse to Recognize Situational Football: The Falcons were down two. It was first-and-goal from the 10 with 70 seconds left and the Lions were out of timeouts. Matt Patricia’s group understood that letting the clock bleed then needing a block or miss on a 25- to 30-yard field goal was the worst-case scenario for the Lions. So why didn’t Raheem Morris’s group figure that out? Or, if they did, why did nobody tell Todd Gurley before they handed him the ball?
Steelers Were Lucky to Close It Out: It’s your offense that closes out games in 2020, and the Steelers just jogged in place after taking a 20-point lead early in the third quarter. Granted, the two turnovers were fluky—a deflected interception, and another on an end zone seam route in traffic that JuJu Smith-Schuster had in his hands before linebacker Jayon Brown knocked away at the last moment. After doing whatever they wanted in the first 35 minutes, Pittsburgh went three-and-out punt, interception on the fourth play of a drive, and punt after a five-play drive to open the door for Tennessee. Then they threw the interception in the end zone at the end of a long drive, giving the Titans one last chance.
Melvin Gordon’s Brutal Day: With Phillip Lindsay out with a concussion, Gordon made the least of his expanded workload. Along with a bafflingly soft fumble in the first half, he turned a flea-flicker into a back-breaking turnover with a toss that would have made the late Garo Yepremian blush.
Jaylon Smith Is Really, Really Struggling: The contract extension he signed before last season was a fair deal for both sides, but he’s going to become the poster boy for the front office’s mistakes if he continues to play at this level. The Joneses have to be praying it’s just a rough transition to a new scheme. (For what it’s worth, Leighton Vander Esch is struggling too but he’s being spared because he’s missed time and because he’s still on his rookie deal.)
Jon Bostic’s Hit on Andy Dalton: Sometimes the QB slides late and there’s not a whole lot the defender can do about it. That wasn’t the case here; Dalton was slowing down early to go into his slide. This play is absolutely filthy. Bostic was ejected and is at least looking at a hefty fine, if not a suspension.
Stephen Gostkowski: Tokyo Drift: I didn’t see any of those movies and don’t really know what that term means, but a Gostkowski kick drifted too far right for a second straight week. This one was a 48-yarder that would have forced overtime against the Steelers.
Josh Allen Ball Security: I was a charter member of the Josh Allen bandwagon and I’m not going anywhere now, but early Sunday he took a strip-sack on a third-and-long in the red zone, his fourth lost fumble of the season. The lack of interceptions is great, but fumbles are typically more damaging than interceptions.
The Falcons’ Gradient Uniforms Are a Crime Against Humanity: The players should file a class-action suit against everyone involved in the conception and approval of those costumes.
This Is Such a Dumb Penalty to Take: Garoppolo's flop wasn't necessary. If, after an interception, a quarterback is walking away from the play, everyone knows it’s a flag if you come within a hectare of him. So instead of taking over at the 49ers’ 38 after intercepting Garoppolo, Chase Winovich pushes the Patriots’ struggling offense back into their own territory.
The Bills Were Going to Have some Red Zone Regression… : But I didn’t expect it to come all in one week. In East Rutherford they made four red-zone trips (excluding their game-ending kneel-downs) and came away with six points (two field goals, one missed field goal and one turnover).
Ezekiel Elliott Suddenly Has Hands Like Feet: Following up the two fumbles on Monday night, he turned a red-zone dump off (that, to be fair, was thrown behind him) into an interception, and managed to muff a toss on Ben DiNucci’s first snap resulting in a loss of yardage.
The Patriots Offense Over the Last Three Games: Encapsulated perfectly on this play.
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Joey Slye Heartbreak from 65: This would’ve tied it late (and it came after Teddy Bridgewater took a killer sack).
Ezekiel Elliott Tries Out as Crash Test Dummy: The actual dummy, not the alternative soft-rock band. Musically he just wouldn’t be on the same page with them.
This Roughing the Passer Call: Oh my. Also, keep in mind that Matthew Stafford has a good 30 pounds on A.J. Terrell.
For Once, the Jets Actually Try to Convert a Third-and-Long: And look what happens on third-and-20! (Ignore the fact that four plays later they turned it over on downs.)
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
The Steelers Are 6-0: And they’ll get knocked for the too-exciting finish in Nashville, but it’s not often a team loses the turnover battle 3-0, doesn't really get any bounces along the way, and still beats an undefeated opponent on the road.
All Eyes Turn to Josh McDaniels: He built quite a reputation—for good reason—over the Tom Brady years, but right now he has a struggling quarterback overseeing a broken offense. The best coaches are teachers and problem-solvers. Right now, his unit needs a lot of both.
Don’t Look Now, But the Lions Are Back in This Thing: They’re sitting at 3-3 and their all-world quarterback is starting to get back on track after a rocky start to 2020.
Whoa Whoa Whoa ... Josh Allen Is Streaky?: As much as I enjoy the XTREME TAEKS!(tm) after every Allen game (I’ve participated myself!), here’s what he is: an ascending young QB who makes up for rough edges by putting incredible stress on an opposing defense due to his arm strength and athleticism. He will occasionally string together too many misses; he’s never going to be Brady-in-his-prime accurate. He’s also going to create some plays—and Brian Daboll can call some plays—that few other quarterbacks can attempt. He’s young Cam Newton, probably a little more erratic as a thrower and but also much more willing to scramble (Cam was used on designed runs, but never scrambled as much as Allen does). Allen could very well have a Cam 2015 season at some point, and if he does it will be the case of an extended hot streak. But changing your perception of him as we go week-to-week doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Jets Hold on in the Trevor Lawrence Derby: The Jaguars are on their heels, while Washington might have just bowed out.
Cowboys Players Call Out Coaches, Now Coaches Call Out Players: Mike McCarthy didn't like the lack of response to the Jon Bostic cheap shot on Andy Dalton and said so after the game. It comes less than a week after players anonymously called out the coaching staff. So now we'll have a week to devote to a debate for the ages: Are the 2-5 Cowboys the product of bad players or bad coaches?
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