Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the Week 9 Sunday afternoon games...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Josh Allen in Beautiful Buffalo: The Bills drafted Allen in part because of his ability to play in bad weather, but those rain/wind games have given him some issues this year. Conversely, he's been outstanding when the conditions are ideal. On an unseasonably warm November day in Orchard Park, he obliterated the Seahawks’ blitz-happy defense with a near-flawless performance (31-for-38, 415 yards, three TDs passing, 1 TD rushing). The gap in quarterback play in this one was enormous, with Allen simply outclassing Russell Wilson. Allen will have his ups and downs, but right now he’s the reason a team with an underperforming defense is sitting at 7-2 and just depantsed the presumptive MVP favorite.
Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott Push the Right Buttons: Two weeks ago we saw Vance Joseph take the injury-plagued shell of a Cardinals defense and repeatedly frazzle Russell Wilson with well-timed blitzes. The Bills' struggling defense took the same tack and got similar results on Sunday. Don’t be fooled by Wilson's garbage-time stat-padding; they had him shaken for most of Sunday, causing numerous misfires and forcing four turnovers in the process.
Steelers Survive Again: Yes, Dallas threw its absolute best punch in this one, and the Cowboys’ superior special teams made a big impact. But Pittsburgh’s offense was also sluggish for a second straight week. Good teams win when they’re not at their best—but what is the best this offense, which still hasn’t found a consistent downfield element, has to offer?
Tua Arrives: It was going to be easier considering the Cardinals’ lack of a four-man pass rush, and Tagovailoa delivered some big-time throws and flashed some escapability that you didn’t see in his debut. Dolphins fans can exhale—there’s no need to second-guess the QB switch now.
Xavien Howard Won Against DeAndre Hopkins: Howard, who drew the bulk of the work opposite Hopkins, was excellent in this game, he just caught a flag-happy officiating crew. He allowed two catches and committed one actual pass interference penalty against (though he was flagged for three more).
Ravens Defense Will Carry Them: And, to be honest, the offense isn’t struggling that badly—they ran into a really good Colts defense on Sunday, and they just need to erase the turnovers going forward. Baltimore got back on track in Indy, the defense dominating the second half, allowing 65 yards and zero points over Indy’s first four second-half possessions.
Cam Heyward as Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer: This fourth-down sack pretty much closed it out in Dallas (even if it did get interesting on the final drive).
Minkah Fitzpatrick Finishes Another One: For a second straight week, he gets the PBU in the end zone to secure a Steelers win. It’s hard to find a more impactful trade acquisition over the past decade.
Garrett Gilbert Was Almost Enough: Considering the opponent, the overall dysfunction of his team, and the fact that he just arrived less than a month ago, to have a lead for 55 minutes against the Steelers—and have a chance to win it on the final throw—is an overwhelmingly successful start for Gilbert.
Isaiah Johnson Converts the Save: The second-year corner broke up goal-line throws to 6’ 4” Mike Williams and 6’ 8” tight end Donald Parham on the final two plays of the game to secure the Raiders' win over the Chargers.
Bones Fassel Is a Wizard: The special teams coordinator is the best thing about the 2020 Dallas Cowboys. This fake punt design, rolled out in the perfect situation, was masterful (there was a flag for a downfield block, but this still flipped the field 60 yards.
Joe Brady Puts the Chiefs in a Blender: Carolina had Chiefs defenders pointing fingers at each other during a 15-play touchdown drive to open the game. There’s not always a downfield element with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, but this offense continues to be a pain in the butt for opponents.
Teddy Bridgewater Finishing the Run: On a must-have fourth-and-14.
Good for Jake Luton: Facing the Texans is a little like World 1-1 of a video game, but give credit to a rookie who leads an 80-yard must-have drive in the final two minutes of his first career start.
Relaaaaaax, About Daniel Jones: The week’s worth of Jameis Winston comparisons were laughable—indeed, both throw too many interceptions. And breathe oxygen. And have vowels in their names. But Winston’s turnovers came because he consistently ignored defenders at the second level (which is difficult to work around), while Jones’s come because he too often tries to extend plays and gets reckless playing through contact (which is problematic, but correctable). Despite pedestrian numbers, Jones was sharp on Sunday against a quality Football Team defense, behind a shaky offensive line, and with a mistake-prone collection of receivers (Evan Engram has a serious case of the drops). The Giants are likely out of range for Trevor Lawrence, and if they have a shot one of the other Big Three QBs in the draft (Justin Fields, Trey Lance) there’s a conversation to be had. If they don’t, there’s no reason they shouldn’t feel cautiously optimistic about the man they call Abracadaniel going forward.
This Brian Daboll Third-and-16 Playcall: Seattle had gotten quite bold with the blitz, and were finally made to pay.
Justin Herbert Is the Greatest 1-6 QB Who Ever Lived: And the margin of defeat on four of those losses has been as Chargers-y as it gets.
The Tiniest Throwing Window There Could Be: Perfect placement by Ryan Tannehill, and tremendous concentration by A.J. Brown, who is emerging as an unguardable weapon.
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Russell Wilson’s Off-Day: For the second time in three weeks, an opponent dialed up blitzes at the right time and Wilson folded. Some serious garbage-time stat-padding and a handful of bailout flags kept this one from looking as bad on paper as it did on film, but Wilson was indecisive, off-target and mistake-prone (four turnovers) in another game in which his supporting cast was far more talented than the opponent.
Bears Implode in Slow-Motion: Facing a Titans defense that has been historically bad on third downs, the Bears went 2-for-15 on third down and didn’t score a touchdown until they were facing a 21-point deficit with five minutes left. Everyone knows about the quarterback situation, but Chicago has done little to address offensive line issues, and the running back they traded up for two drafts ago despite limited draft capital went 14 rushes for 30 yards and one fumble that was taken back for a scoop-and-score in Nashville. That 5-1 cushion has been erased by a three-game losing streak, with a visit by the suddenly hot Vikings and then a trip to Lambeau coming up.
Kyler Misses the Layup: Murray was much better at the intermediate and deep-intermediate levels in this one. He wasn't as good as the numbers would indicate—Darrell Daniels turned one sure interception into a touchdown and the officiating crew was wholly unprepared to deal with the physicality of DeAndre Hopkins, repeatedly throwing phantom defensive pass interference flags. But the third-and-1 miss to an open receiver to the flat ended up being his last snap of the game for Murray. The miss was a bad one, and the coach then stepped in to compound the problem...
Kingsbury Plays for the Tie: With Arizona's struggling defense, against a hot quarterback, you can not send the field-goal unit out on fourth-and-1 with two minutes left and trailing by three. Even if you make the kick, you're giving it back to Tua with plenty of time left on the clock—and even if you get the stop on that ensuing drive, you then have to win the overtime coin flip. Zane Gonzalez missed the kick, saving everyone a lot of time and aggravation. Get the yard and win the game, guy.
Zane Gonzalez Shocks the World: By coming up short from 49 yards on a potential game-tying field goal attempt in the final two minutes. The Dolphins picked up a first down on the next series to seal the game.
“Delay” Is Subjective: Officials typically give you an extra tick after the play clock hits zero, but you could have cooked a delicious roast during the time between zero and the ball being snapped. (Though, regardless of the missed call, this is horrifically played by rookie corner C.J. Henderson.)
Officials Bail Out Kliff: For the second straight game, Kingsbury dialed up a disastrous playcall on a fourth down, resulting in Kyler Murray heaving a prayer from 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. But instead of the turnover on downs in their own territory, an inexplicable pass interference flag on Xavien Howard led to off-setting penalties and a second chance for the Cardinals. Kyler Murray ran for a first on the next play, and was in the end zone two plays later for a go-ahead, third-quarter touchdown that never should have happened.
Joey Slye’s Heartbreak at 67 Yards: Every Panthers game comes down to Slye trying to kick a record-setting field goal. He might have had the distance on a potential game-winner in Kansas City, but it was wide right (by quite a bit).
Ravens’ Red-Zone Turnovers: Another one this week, with Gus Edwards coughing up a fumble on a first-and-goal run.
Drew Lock’s Tryout Takes a Turn for the Worse: Fourth-quarter comebacks are great, but for the second straight week the Broncos failed to score a touchdown until well into the second-half and when they were trailing by three touchdowns. You’ll come up short most of the time in those scenarios, as the Broncos did on Sunday. On a snap-to-snap basis, the bad continues to outweigh the good with Lock. He has seven games left in his tryout to keep this job for 2021. If this is how it’s going to be, and the Broncos have a shot at one of the Big Three quarterbacks, they’re going to have to make the change.
Texans Give a Nice Welcome Gift to Jake Luton: Man, this Texans defense is next-level bad. Facing rookie sixth-rounder Jake Luton, they allowed a 73-yard TD on the first snap and stood even more flat-footed than usual as Luton took the Jaguars 80 yards in 87 seconds for a late touchdown that would have tied it with a two-point conversion.
Lions Going Out With a Whimper: After letting one get away late against the Colts, the Lions went to Minnesota, laid down and died as they seem intent on wasting another year of Matthew Stafford. Meanwhile, behind the scenes they’re reportedly playing games with Kenny Golladay on his contract extension, playing into an unfortunate Bob Quinn era narrative that this franchise alienates star players.
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Philip Rivers, Open-Field Tackler:
Darrell Daniels Saves Christmas: A play that should have resulted in nothing good for the Cardinals ends up resulting in a touchdown.
Punter Stares Down the Gun Barrel: Promising sign for an aspiring young passer like Joseph Carlton. It extended a drive that ended with a touchdown.
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Russ Leaving the MVP Door Open: The garbage-time stat-padding might have been enough to retain favorite status, but this was Wilson’s second problematic performance in three games. Once again, an undermanned but blitz-happy opponent had him firing off-target and getting reckless with the ball. With Patrick Mahomes starting to get it going and Tom Brady poised for a big second half, it might not be long before we have a new favorite.
The Vikings Live: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but the Vikings followed up an upset win at Lambeau with a 14-point win over the Lions that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Now they get Chicago and Dallas the next two weeks with a chance to get back to .500. Actually, let’s get ahead of ourselves. What else do we have to keep up busy?
Alex Smith Time in Washington: With Kyle Allen out. It will be a nice story, but it’s still impossible to find any reason in starting Smith over Dwayne Haskins.
Once the Panthers Add Some More Talent…: This team is going to take over the NFC South. It’s hard to find a coaching staff doing more with less in 2020.
Just How Good Are the Steelers?: On one hand, the offense still has plenty of question marks—the last 10 quarters has not been beautiful. But on the other hand, they're good enough to be 8-0.
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