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Week 10 Takeaways: The Patriots Are Back, So Is Cam While Rodgers Vs. Russ Is a Slog

Plus, the Cowboys restore order, the Steelers get the tie they played for, Dan Campbell gets half his win, Dan Quinn’s D humiliates his old team, Titans find a way, officials flag more game-altering phantom penalties, and more!

Welcome to the Week 10 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

You Thought Right: The Patriots Are Back: The defense, yes. And the quarterback is keeping everything on schedule, getting the ball out on-time and getting some unexpected plays from a fairly pedestrian receiving corps. But it’s the offensive line and the power run game—on Sunday led by rookie Rhamondre Stevenson doing his best Mosi Tatupu circa 1983 impression—that is bringing up shades of Belichick teams past. Mac Jones is not Brady, but all the elements of the late-Brady Patriots—including the Super Bowl LIII team—are now here.

Hey Look, It’s Cam Newton!: And he’s doing stuff! (Scoring touchdowns—a TD run and a TD pass on his first two snaps of the game—and picking up penalties for the celebration, but whatever, the Panthers won in a blowout anyway.)

Aaron Rodgers Still Working Through a New Supporting Cast: He was particularly miffed about Josiah Deguara’s lack of attention to detail on a couple of plays, as the second-year tight end is stepping in for an injured Robert Tonyan. For a second straight game it wasn’t beautiful for Rodgers, but it was more than enough considering how the Packers' defense is playing.

Yup, Don’t Worry About the Cowboys: They came into Sunday leading the NFL in luck-adjusted point differential, and while I haven’t re-run the numbers I’m guessing they’re still on top after a 40-point blowout of the Falcons. Dak Prescott’s calf injury was a reason for slight concern after last week’s shaky performance against Denver, but this remains a very good team that can win in a variety of ways.

Dan Quinn Revenge Game: I’m genuinely curious if Quinn (the former Falcons coach who’s now the Cowboys DC, of course) saw Arthur Smith’s quotes to our Albert Breer last week when Smith was, frankly, feeling himself a little more than he probably should have been after holding off Trevor Siemian. While I don’t think these words were directed toward Quinn and/or his old staff and players, it’s not difficult to see how they might be taken that way. Said Smith: “This football league’s not for soft souls, so you gotta play every down. You’re on the road, it’s not the same old Falcons and so we found a way to finish. Soft souls, we got them out of here.” The Cowboys’ drubbing of Atlanta on Sunday felt just a little personal, whether it be a defensive timeout in the final seconds of the first half of a 36–3 game, or Dak Prescott lowering his shoulder on a fourth-down scramble to put Dallas up 40.

AJ Dillon as Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer: With Aaron Jones going down on the last play of the third quarter, it was Dillon taking on a full-time workload to finish it. It was tough sledding in the fourth quarter—11 carries for 28 yards—but he added a 50-yard catch-and-run and punched it in on third-and-goal twice (scoring touchdowns is a skill!) to finish off Seattle.

This Time, Mike Zimmer Lets His Offense Win It: Last week, Zimmer settled for overtime rather than going for two in Baltimore, his Vikings eventually falling to the Ravens. On Sunday, protecting a seven-point lead and facing a fourth-and-2 at the Chargers’ 36 with 2:32 to go, Zimmer left the offense on the field and Dalvin Cook got the game-clinching first down. (The Vikings, by the way, are a half-game behind Carolina for the seventh-seed in the NFC and have a win over the Panthers head-to-head.)

Give Joe Barry a Pat on the Back: The narrative can change depending on what happens in January (just ask Mike Pettine), but right now Barry, the Packers’ first-year defensive coordinator, is making it work with a thin cornerbacking group, injury-plagued linebacking corps and without his best pass-rusher. Against Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson in consecutive weeks, the Packers allowed just 34 points combined.

Jalen Hurts Deserves His Shot: Ever since drafting him in the second round a little more than 18 months ago, the Eagles’ front office has basically sent every message imaginable that they don’t believe Hurts is their QB of the future. Hurts, in response, has shown much more good than bad in his first full season as a starter, and Sunday’s win in Denver was another step in the right direction. We know what he can do with his legs, he was connecting with DeVonta Smith outside the numbers, and now it’s time to get him working between the numbers to better regulate this offense. There's no reason to think he can't become the guy in Philly.

The Bills Are Fine Too: But you’re smart, you knew that. However, they’re going to be in a dogfight with the Patriots in the AFC East.

For Your Consideration: Jeffery Simmons: There’s a lot of season to go, and Simmons had already been dominant in the first half of the year. Now it’s showing up statistically (which will catch the attention of voters), as in two more sacks—now five over the last two games—as the Tennessee defense takes over with Derrick Henry sidelined. Consider this the start of his Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

Dan Campbell Is, Like, Half on the Board?: With a tie in Pittsburgh. It probably feels about as good for him as you think it does. He was using timeouts trying to get the ball back at the end of overtime, but couldn’t do so until there were eight seconds left. Missed kicks, dropped interceptions… it just wasn’t meant to be. (Also, read this.)


Regrets

The Steelers Get the Result They Played For: Granted, it was Mason Rudolph working with a bunch of backup receivers. But the Lions don’t pressure the quarterback, the Steelers drew a long pass interference penalty early, yet in the end they retreated back into their shell, going all quick-game and keeping the Lions around. Pittsburgh ended up turning it over three times anyway (two of them run-after-catch fumbles in overtime), didn’t get a takeaway themselves, and go home with a tie, at home, against Detroit.

This Ryan Santoso Potential Game-Winner: His first missed field goal of the season (on his first career attempt from beyond 35 yards) coming after his first missed PAT of the season, which is part of the reason the Lions and Steelers were in overtime anyway.

How Is Pat Freiermuth Possibly Fumbling on the Steelers’ Final Play?: It was a quick out to set up a field-goal attempt; literally the only thing he can’t do is fumble the ball. Just a baffling mistake by the rookie tight end.

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Cleveland’s Back Seven: The Browns’ pass rush lost the battle on Sunday—in part because of the Patriots’ stout front five and in part due to play-calling and a quarterback that got the ball out before they had a chance to make an impact. Either way, first-round pick Greg Newsome couldn’t handle Kendrick Bourne, the rest of the defensive backfield turned too many short passes into long catch-and-runs, and the linebackers were too often taken for a ride by Rhamondre Stevenson.

Baker Mayfield Playing From Behind (Especially in Foxboro): The Browns are still too game-flow dependent, and despite a fourth-and-goal touchdown on the game’s opening drive, a bad Mayfield interception on the subsequent possession, setting New England up with a first-and-goal, was Step 1 in putting the Browns behind the 8-ball. This is still a team capable of making a run to the Super Bowl, but their path to victory on any given week is narrower than you’d like.

Trevor Lawrence Is Becoming Exhibit T for Abolishing the Draft: It’s painful to watch a truly special talent try to operate with this supporting cast, under this coaching staff, knowing he was forced to join this Jaguars organization as a reward for their incompetence rather than allowed to pick his team. (By the way, if there was a rookie signing day instead of a draft—in recognition of the fact that the hard salary cap already bakes in the necessary parity—it would not only be much more fair for the players and weed tanking fetishists out of front offices anywhere, but it would also be infinitely more interesting and entertaining for the fans.)

Bucs Sans AB: It’s not a coincidence that he’s missed each of their three losses. As good as Tom Brady is, he’s not truly Tom Brady when his supporting cast isn’t there in full (and while Jaelon Darden has his charms, Antonio Brown has re-established himself as the best receiver in football.

Cards When They Don’t Get the Fumbles: They’d scooped up an incredible 24 of 32 fumbles in their games entering Sunday—considering the expected 50% recovery rate, effectively, they have been stealing a possession per game. There’s no shortage of unusual people who will argue this is a skill, but in reality it is not. On Sunday, Colt McCoy lost one on the opening possession, leading to a quick Panthers touchdown in a game that quickly got out of hand despite the Panthers splitting QB reps between their backup and a guy they signed five days ago. And when Kyler Murray is out, and they’re not getting fumbles (they got two early against the 49ers last week), there’s not much of a path to victory for this Cardinals team.

Chase Young’s ACL: It’s a potentially devastating one for Washington, who is still very much in the mix in the “race” for the seventh seed in the NFC. WFT could muck their way into the postseason for a second straight year, but this makes it a much tougher climb.

The Declining Number of First-Round Picks the Jets Will Get for Mike White: He could very well develop into a quality backup. But the narrative that White’s performance in the upset over the Bengals—in which the Jets backs (mostly) and receivers made play after play after the catch—was anything more than a quarterback being lifted by an exceptional performance by the supporting cast is pretty much done at this point.

Tyler Lockett Flops: They seem to get exponentially worse with the forward march of time, and yet officials keep rewarding him. At Lambeau, he got the Seahawks a free 24 yards in the first quarter by slowing down and initiating contact with a defensive back then prat-falling like Paul Blart. It was yet another penalty that sky judge should have overruled, even if a fellow official wanted to help his overwhelmed pal out by blindly throwing a second flag on the play. (Also, does Paul Blart do prat falls? I’m assuming yes.)

Dan Arnold Getting His Head Around: It looks like the Jags are teaching their tight ends the Coby Fleener method—run your route but don’t get caught up in little details like finding the ball when it’s thrown.

Tom Brady Wishes He Could Get the Kind of Flags Ryan Tannehill Now Gets: I mean, what are we doing here? How does the umpire, who has an unimpeded look at this, throw this flag? And how are there still not guardrails to correct this blatant mistake? (For the record, this erased an interception; after a ticky-tack pass interreference calls a few plays later, this ended up a seven-point phantom flag.)

Unsuccessfully Trying to Draw a Taunting Flag: I’d be all for ejecting any player calling for a taunting flag on an opponent. But the shame John Johnson will feel for being in this highlight will have to suffice.

* * *

Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

This DeVonta Smith Catch:

Everything the Cowboys Did to the Falcons: But especially this…


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Sky Judge Must Be Expanded: To all calls, but specifically to personal-foul penalties. It’s been a torrent of objectively incorrect, game-altering flags this season, and it’s become clear that the current crop of officials is not capable of handling the speed of the NFL game. (Ergo, we can look forward to the competition committee responding by putting in a rules emphasis on illegal shifts.)

The Titans Are Living Well: They have a comfortable lead (and a season sweep) over the Colts in the AFC South, and for whatever reason Ryan Tannehill has become an absolute magnet for phantom roughing the passer flags (one of them erased an ugly red-zone interception on a drive that led to a touchdown). They got another high-impact takeaway on Sunday, this one a fumble on a kickoff return that set them up for a short-field TD. The Saints missed two PATs forcing them to go for two to tie after the final touchdown (from seven yards out after a false start). The Derrick Henry–less (and now Julio Jones–less) Titans offense has been an issue the past two weeks though, as in 3.7 yards per play during that span. And more likely than not, the takeaways and opponent missed kicks will dry up.

The Cardinals Really Wish Sam Darnold Was Healthy on Sunday: I’m not sure who the Panthers quarterback will be for the remainder of 2021, let alone 2022, but it won’t be Darnold.

Chargers Are in Trouble: They walked a tightrope early in the season, carried by Justin Herbert’s superstar performance, but they’ve now dropped three of four with Herbert looking like a mere star, and they just don’t really seem to be improving. They’re sitting at 5–4 and are getting desperate in an AFC playoff race that will likely require 10-plus wins.

The Football Team Lives: As I’ll probably write 78,000 times over the next couple weeks, the race for the seventh seed in the NFC is going to be a crime against football. Thus, with Sunday’s upset of Tampa, and even without Chase Young, Washington is still very much a threat to return to the postseason a second straight year.

Seriously, God Bless the NFC’s Seventh Seed: There’s time for a 49ers or Seahawks or Vikings to get hot and put some respectability into the race, but the Falcons—leader for the last playoff spot coming into Sunday—have a lot more in common with the Dolphins and Lions and Jaguars than they do with any of the division leaders in the NFC. (And that was true before the drubbing in Dallas.) Right now, the Panthers are the seventh-seed in the NFC.

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