Welcome to the Week 6 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Everything Goes Wrong and the Cowboys Win Anyway: It looked like they were going to fall in Foxboro when they kept failing on third down. Or as they racked up 115 yards of penalties. Or when Dak Prescott turned it over on the goal line. Or after Greg Zuerlein hooked a potential go-ahead kick late. Or when, moments after a Trevon Diggs gave them the lead, they allowed a 75-yard touchdown to give it right back. Or when, trailing by three in the final seconds, a series of Connor Williams penalties had them facing a third-and-25 in their own territory. Or when they lost the overtime coin toss. There’s something to be said for pulling out a game like the Cowboys did in Foxboro, and especially when it pushes you to 5–1.
The Ravens Are Doing Something Special: You already knew Lamar Jackson was good and that only the most goobery of goobers were buying into the “they figured him out” talking points coming from various NFL also-ran types. But what’s incredible is that Baltimore has overcome the obscene rash of injuries they suffered in August and September. On top of that, they’ve now had to play on a short week, coming off an overtime MNF game, twice this season; both games were against fellow AFC bluebloods and both games they won, stealing one from the Chiefs in Week 2 and completely outclassing the Chargers on Sunday. This is a team that weathered the worst and have come out playing elite football. That’s a credit to the players and coaching staff.
What Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins Are Doing: As in, repeatedly converting third-and-longs out of structure. The Cardinals’ first touchdown in Cleveland came on a third-and-21 in which Murray extended the play until Christian Kirk came open. The second was on a third-and-goal from the 13, a Browns blitz forcing Murray into an uninspired quick throw to Hopkins, who made the catch at the 10 and somehow shook three Browns defenders to take it into the end zone.
The Bengals Become the Hammer: Lots of funeral preparations were being made for Zac Taylor this summer, but right now he has the Bengals sitting at 4–2, Joe Burrow looking every bit like the franchise quarterback we thought he’d be, and the defense emerging as one of the most underrated units in football. The schedule has been soft, but good teams establish themselves as good by beating bad teams, and that’s what the Bengals—once one of the bad teams—are doing right now.
Kirk Cousins Does It Again. And Again, Again: Due to some frustratingly conservative late-game play-calling, the Vikings are coming down to the final possession pretty much every week. On Sunday, Cousins drove the Vikings 46 yards in 42 seconds with two timeouts, setting up a potential game-winning field goal from 47 that kicker Greg Joseph missed. So Cousins took matters into his own hands in overtime, driving the Vikings 75 yards on nine plays, with the game-winner to K.J. Osborn. Cousins has been charged with mounting a final-minute drive to tie or win a game six times this season; five times, he’s either put up points or put Minnesota in position to score points via field goal attempt of less than 50 yards.
Kenny Clark as Kyra Sedgwick as The Closer: Coverage had a lot to do on both plays, but with the Bears trying to cut it to a one-possession game Clark sacked Justin Fields twice in a three-play span. Finishing a play in the backfield on Fields is no small feat for a 300-plus pounder.
Rich Bisaccia Is on the Board!: The Raiders played like a team with no interest in folding up the season in the wake of the Jon Gruden scandal. The pass rush was there, they took advantage of multiple Teddy Bridgewater misfires, and Derek Carr delivered a handful of big-time throws in his first game post-Gruden.
Cardinals on Third-and-Very-Long vs. Browns on Fourth-and-Short: Arizona scored touchdowns on a third-and-21 and a third-and-goal from the 13. The Browns failed to convert a fourth-and-3 and a fourth-and-4 inside the Cardinals’ 15. That's how a game gets out of reach early.
Mac Jones Gets Trevon Diggs on With the Long Con: One play after giving up the lead with a high-and-wide slant throw that became a pick-six for Diggs, Jones and the Patriots took advantage of Diggs’s aggressiveness with a double move to re-take the lead on a 75-yard Kendrick Bourne touchdown in the wildest succession of plays you’ll ever see.
A Man Going By Matthew Wright: Apparently Justin Tucker falsified a passport and traveled to London to kick for the Jaguars under the assumed identity “Matthew Wright.” Jacksonville—who amazingly had not converted a field goal through five games—got three field goals from “Wright” in London, including a 54-yarder to tie it with 3:40 left, and a 53-yarder to win it as time expired.
Trevor Lawrence and His Teammates Are on the Board!: Most impressively, they dragged Urban Meyer to an NFL victory with them!
J.J. Watt and Markus Golden Against Two Backup Tackles: Most starting tackles have no chance against that pairing, so you can imagine how Blake Hance and James Hudson fared.
Ja’Marr Chase Lead Blocks Too:
What It’s Like to Be an Offensive Coach for the Cardinals: Considering the consistent individual, out-of-structure playmaking of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins (not to mention the dominant play of Vance Joseph’s defense):
Jalen Mills, You Gotta Walk Away Buddy: The number of times Bill Belichick and Patriots fans saw Tom Brady trolling opponents after a big play over the years, it can't taste good to be on the other side of it. It's one thing to give up the play, but don't make yourself into a meme in the aftermath.
Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy Chiefs: The good news is that it’s not like the Chiefs have receivers who can’t get open, or a system that doesn’t work. (Also, they won, albeit against a not-very-good opponent.) They are just exceptionally sloppy right now—three move turnovers, including Mahomes interceptions that came via botched snap and stumbling receiver. You would presume these things will get cleaned up as the year goes on—especially considering the wholesale changes on the offensive line—but they are minus-8 in turnover differential six games into the season.
Jack Del Rio’s Defense: Continues to be bottom-10 despite all the resources poured into it. The H is O.
Chargers Special Teams: Another missed PAT (that’s five this season; could’ve just kept Michael Badgley at this point), a 47-yard return allowed on the second-half kickoff, returns of 13-plus yards allowed on all three punt returns they covered. They got their butts beat anyway in Baltimore, but the special-teams headaches remain for another Chargers regime.
That Browns Secondary: Sunday featured a whole lot of pointing and frustrated gesturing, almost like Jack Del Rio is guest-coordinating this unit. Sunday was the first time this season Cleveland’s front four wasn’t utterly dominant, forcing the defensive backfield to do… well, something. Instead, they did nothing. I mean, DeAndre Hopkins is really good, but how can this become a touchdown?
Vikings Third-and-8 Call: Protecting an eight-point lead with two minutes left and with a chance to seal the game with a first down, they instead chose the ol’ run-then-punt. Was it likely Sam Darnold would lead a 90-plus yard drive and get the two-point conversion on top of it? No, but the game is different when the entire field is four-down territory. The Vikings were lucky to win the overtime toss and have Kirk Cousins mitigate that bout of play-calling cowardice.
Rasul Douglas Owes the NFL Some Money:
Connor Williams Collects All the Flags: The Cowboys’ oft-maligned (but quietly improving) left guard almost ended the game in Foxboro by picking up a blatant hold then a subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that took the Cowboys from the fringe of field-goal range to a third-and-25 situation in their own territory. (Dak Prescott bailed him out one play later, with a 24-yard throw to CeeDee Lamb that set up a field goal to force overtime.)
Tyreek Hill’s Loss of Equilibrium in the First Half: On the first drive of the game he fell down, nearly causing an interception. On the first play of the second quarter, on a first-and-goal snap, he stumbled and then gathered himself just in time to deflect a pass for a red-zone interception. Seems like a good time to consult Brad Goodman’s “Feel-Bad Rainbow”:
Everything About Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL Career to This Point: On Sunday, the Dolphins got to operate an elementary offense against a team with no pass rush—the Dolphins’ 17 offensive coordinators clearly made a point of creating space for Tua like he had at Alabama (the Jaguars are one of the defenses where you can basically turn it into 7-on-7), and consistently called passing plays on running down-and-distance. When there’s no one near him, Tua is fine; the same that can be said for any of the 100 or so quarterbacks in the league right now. But even the slightest bit of pressure—or even a threat of pressure—causes a complete meltdown and there’s no telling where the ball will go.
“Roughing” the Passer:
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Aaron Rodgers, to Soldier Field: Though how quickly he forgets about that one time over the last decade when he didn’t win a game he played at Soldier Field.
Trevon Diggs Briefly Saves Christmas: With the Cowboys trailing by one with less than three minutes left, he took full advantage of a high-and-wide throw to get a go-ahead touchdown late in Foxboro. (Little did we know there would be 17 more points scored in this game.)
K.J. Osborn Helmet Toss: A great celebration, especially making it look like the helmet is a 50-pound medicine ball.
Baker Mary. Wait, Brail Harry?: No wait… Hake Müslix?
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
The Cardinals Just Keep Stacking Wins: There have been weeks where they looked like they were on even footing with the likes of the Jaguars and the disjointed Trey Lance-led 49ers. They’re stopping fourth downs at an unsustainable rate (opponents are 4-for-14!)—not unlike their outlier red-zone efficiency around this point of the 2020 season—and offensively they’ve repeatedly converted third-and-15-plus. They continue to demand incredible individual playmaking from their quarterback, even if he is the best player in football right now. But most importantly: Even if they aren’t the best team in football (they aren’t), they’re sitting at 6–0, they have road wins over the Rams and Browns, and after a while you have enough margin for error that nothing matters again until January football when you're a couple bounces away from the Super Bowl.
The Tank and Everything After: On Sunday morning the NFL continued its assault on the United Kingdom by subjecting them to two teams who threw away recent seasons in service of the tank. Tanking is a cynical, outrageously anti-labor and largely ineffective strategy. (Even in the NBA, where a single player can make an immense impact, the 76ers famously gave themselves over to the most absurd rebuild professional sports has ever seen; Philly fans have since had to watch more forward-thinking franchises run circles around their team to championships while the 76ers have failed to advance past the point of the team they originally tore down). Tanking appeals to a certain sect of fans because “we’re going to get the first pick of the draft” is easier to understand than, “we’re going to identify market inefficiencies in talent acquisition and find innovative ways to develop homegrown players.” But, as we’re seeing with the Dolphins and Jaguars, losing is a difficult habit to shake.
Joe Judge Watch Is Officially On: The Giants continue to be dreadfully unimaginative on offense and increasingly leaky on defense, especially without Blake Martinez captaining on the field. But more than anything: There’s no greater indictment of a coaching staff than failing to win games as their young quarterback breaks through (despite Daniel Jones's first rocky performance of the season coming on Sunday, he's otherwise been excellent this year.) That’s what’s happening with the Giants right now.
At the 6/17th of the Way Point in the Season, John Harbaugh Is Coach of the Year: They weathered an incredible rash of injuries late in the summer, and had to play elite opponents on short weeks (and off overtime games!) twice, coming away with wins both times. No team has overcome more to get to 5–1. Come get your Circuit City gift card, John Harbaugh.
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