December 4, 2021

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Audibles at the Line: Week 10

39 min read
Audibles at the Line: Week 10

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we’re personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Detroit Lions 13 at Chicago Bears 20

Bryan Knowles: The Lions, in a must-win game against the Bears, will be without Matthew Stafford for the first time in 136 games. This had been rumored starting yesterday, with a mystery back injury putting his status in question. I don’t think anyone expected him to actually miss the game, though.

Scott Spratt: Mitchell Trubisky is back! Beautiful touch pass to Ben Braunecker for an 18-yard touchdown.

Vince Verhei: I am not watching this game, but some halftime numbers here are, uh, eye-opening.

Mitchell Trubisky: 10-of-14 for 81 yards.
Jeff Driskel: 12-of-17 for for 84 yards.

Scott Spratt: The Bears try a reverse, but Mitchell Trubisky completely whiffs on a block and Trey Flowers destroys Taylor Gabriel. But two plays later, Gabriel has his revenge on another nice Trubisky touchdown pass. His third of the day.

Kansas City Chiefs 32 at Tennessee Titans 35

Bryan Knowles: Good news, Chiefs fans! Patrick Mahomes is back. That’s an incredible recovery from a dislocated kneecap; that could have been a season-ender.

Bad news, Chiefs fans! Mahomes’ first pass is thrown into coverage and nearly picked off by the Titans. It was one of Mahomes’ trademark roll-one-way, throw-back-across-the-field-the-other way kind of plays. It was ruled an interception on the field, but I’m not sure it’ll stand on replay. Still, uh, Pat, shake off some of that rust.

Bryan Knowles: For the record, it takes Mahomes one play to shake off rust. Mahomes passes after the overturned interception: 10 yards to Watkins, incomplete, 19 yards to Hill, 12 yards to Kelce, 16 yards to Kelce, 7 yards to Hill, 2 yards to Hill, 3 yards to Kelce for a touchdown. Chiefs fans breathe a sigh of relief.

Fun fact: Because of their various injuries, Mahomes and Hill had only played 56 snaps together coming into this game. It’s our first chance since Week 1 to see the Chiefs passing attack at full power.

Aaron Schatz: Kansas City is 28th against the run, Tennessee is third, but after one quarter it looks like it should be the other way around.

Vince Verhei: Fluke play in Tennessee. Titans wide receiver Kalif Raymond beats Charvarius Ward and makes a diving catch deep down the middle of the field. But both Ward and Morris Claiborne go running by Raymond without touching him, and he pops up and scampers into the end zone.

But on replay it’s ruled Raymond was touched down, giving the Titans a first down just outside the red zone. As a Derrick Henry fantasy owner, I endorse this reversal.

Aaron Schatz: Sorry, Vince. Diving touchdown catch by MyCole Pruitt makes it 10-7 Kansas City.

Vince Verhei: But no — play-fake to Henry, and Ryan Tannehill finds Anthony Firkser on a seam route for the score. Chiefs still lead 10-7, but Tannehill has now completed all five of his passes for 87 yards and that score.

Aaron Schatz: Jim Nantz gave the wrong name on the touchdown receiver. Vince had it right.

Scott Spratt: Jim Nantz, so unprofessional.

Scott Spratt: Kevin Byard punched the ball out on a Damien Williams carry and Rashaan Evans returns it for a touchdown. Missed extra point, but the Titans are still up 13-10 on the Chiefs.

Bryan Knowles: Huge play for the Titans defense! It looks like David Long punched the ball out of Damien Williams’ hands, and Rashaan Evans scoops and scores. The extra point is missed, but that’s still a 13-10 lead for the Titans. This is pretty much a must-win game for Tennessee to say alive in the AFC South, so full credit to them for not sort of curling up into a ball after that initial Chiefs drive.

Aaron Schatz: Since the last time I sent a message about the Titans run defense not looking good, the Chiefs have had runs for -1, 0, 6, 1, and then -1 and a fumble that was scooped and scored to give the Titans a 13-10 lead after a missed Ryan Succop extra point.

Vince Verhei: The Chiefs just lost offensive linemen on back-to-back snaps. Mitchell Schwartz had played nearly 8,000 consecutive snaps, but had to leave when somebody fell into his leg. At least he was able to walk to the sideline. Right tackle Martinas Rankin’s knee buckled while he was pass-blocking, and he had to be carted off. This line was already missing Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff and Erik Fisher coming into the day.

Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs are not only down to their last backup lineman, they also lost tight end Blake Bell earlier in the day. So I believe if they lose another offensive lineman, they may have to use third tight end Deon Yelder as a tackle.

Bryan Knowles: 13-13 at the half, as the Chiefs offensive line now looks, from right to left, like this: Andrew Wylie, Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter, Stefen Wisniewski, Cam Erving. That’s one starter at his original position, blocking for the Franchise coming back from a dislocated knee. That seems to be somewhat suboptimal. Geoff Schwartz, on Twitter, indicates that brother Mitch might be able to come back, though I don’t know what he’s basing that on (other than, uh, years of experience). He’d better; the Chiefs are desperate there.

Less bad, perhaps, but also concerning: the Chiefs have seven penalties for 65 yards, the Titans just one. The Chiefs are, in large part, beating themselves at this point. It should be noted that the Titans have just 114 yards at the half, so it’s not like the Chiefs aren’t moving the ball. It was just a second quarter that they’d like to forget as soon as possible.

Bryan Knowles: After forcing a quick three- (well, four- with a penalty) and-out, the Chiefs march down the field on their opening drive of the second half to retake the lead. They got bailed out by a defensive holding penalty by Tennessee on a pass that probably should have been intercepted, but then Mahomes threw an absolute rainbow to Tyreek Hill for the score. Butker misses the extra point, however, so it’s still a 19-13 game for the Chiefs.

Bryan Knowles: THERE you go, Vince. Derrick Henry breaks a long one, going 68 yards for a score. And, because of that missed extra point, it’s a go-ahead score, with the Titans taking a 20-19 lead. Back and forth in Nashville.

Vince Verhei: There’s my Derrick Henry play. The Titans block the snot out of the Chiefs on inside zone to the left, opening a massive cutback lane off right tackle. Juan Thornhill completely whiffs on a tackle, and Henry jets 68 yards for a touchdown. Titans up 20-19.

Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs are just so, so fast. A Chiefs receiver just raced 63 yards for a touchdown, outrunning everyone. I assumed it was Tyreek Hill at first glance but no, it’s Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs probably win an all-NFL track meet; they’ve just got so many guys who can turn on the afterburners. And that’s not mentioning Mahomes’ jumping, side-armed pass to hit Hardman in stride. Phew. 29-20 Chiefs — not over yet, but the Titans might need to score on this drive to stay alive.

Scott Spratt: Patrick Mahomes throws a jump pass, which he somehow still beats to Mecole Hardman 15 yards down the field in front of a defender. Hardman could handle it from there, a 63-yard touchdown. He’s nearly as fast as Tyreek Hill. And now the Chiefs are up 29-20.

Vince Verhei: Confession: When Aaron incorrectly said MyCole Pruitt had scored for Tennessee, I almost doubled-up on the error and said that he played for Kansas City. I got MyCole and Mecole confused.

Bryan Knowles: Derrick Henry is up to 172 yards rushing, second to only his game against Jacksonville last year where he had the 99-yard rush. The Titans are just slamming the ball down the Chiefs’ throats. Henry’s second touchdown of the day makes it a 29-27 game. and boy, did the Titans ever need that drive.

Bryan Knowles: Tannehill takes a back-breaking seven-yard sack on third-and-10. They pretty much are forced to go for it on fourth-and-17 — can’t give the ball back to Pat Mahomes with less than two minutes remaining! — but the pass is incomplete. They have all three timeouts, so it’s not game over quite yet, and a Chiefs field goal would make it “only” an eight-point lead, but man. That sack was incredibly costly.

Scott Spratt: The Titans tried to convert a fourth-and-17 with less than two minutes to go. Ryan Tannehill delivers a dime before getting crushed, but A.J. Brown couldn’t catch it as it hit his hands on the ground. The Titans still have timeouts to stop the clock, but things looking dire for the upset bid.

Bryan and I are oddly in sync today.

Vince Verhei: Bad snap on the field goal! Britton Colquitt gets up and throws the ball to nobody, which is intentional grounding. TItans trail 32-27, 1:21 to go, no timeouts, ball at their own 39.

Bryan Knowles: Not just a bad snap, but one that the holder just was not ready for at all! Terrible special teams disaster for Kansas City, and Tennessee’s marching…

Aaron Schatz: Colossal breakdown by the Kansas City defense, which just let Tennessee go 61 yards in four plays with no timeouts and 1:21 left for the go-ahead score.

Bryan Knowles: And not just marching but scoring! Tannehill finds a wide-open Adam Humphries! The Titans take a two-point lead with 23 seconds left! Ryan Tannehill with a HELL of a drive! The Titans were starting the wrong dang quarterback for the first half of the year!

Scott Spratt: And scoring! Tannehill to Humphries!

Carl Yedor: Oh no Kansas City. After two Damien Williams runs to force Tennessee to use timeouts, the Chiefs try to run a tight end screen on third down. It isn’t open, so Mahomes eats it and takes a sack. Harrison Butker lines up for a 47-yard field goal that would push the lead to eight, but the ball is snapped before the holder is ready, resulting in Colquitt chucking it away for an intentional grounding penalty.

Tennessee then immediately takes the ball down the field and scores the go-ahead touchdown with 23 seconds to go.

Bryan Knowles: Mahomes bombs the ball down into field goal range, setting up Butker for a chance to tie the game…

… and it’s blocked! Titans win, keeping their season alive!

Scott Spratt: Were the Titans offsides on that blocked field goal attempt?

Bryan Knowles: Close, but I think he timed it perfectly.

Aaron Schatz: Apparently, there may have been an offsides, but it is not reviewable.

Aaron Schatz: My biggest takeaway from this game is that Ryan Tannehill is playing better than he has in years, and much better than Mariota was playing. In particular, he looks accurate. Next Gen Stats has him second in completion percentage over expectation today behind only Lamar Jackson.

Tom Gower: Weird to see a Titans game getting broad coverage, both in the map posted on 506Sports and also in Audibles. Patrick Mahomes played fine, well, like he’s good, but not otherworldly. Tyreek Hill had a huge day, but it could’ve been bigger had he not dropped a couple of passes and Mahomes hit him for a touchdown that would have made it 17-0 early in the second quarter. But he didn’t, and then a Titans offense that struggled their way through the first quarter got going. The defensive touchdown they’d get later and the big plays combined by alternating big chunks and inefficiency would keep the total play count down, but overall Tennessee’s offensive performance in the last three quarters was consistently strong. They threw the ball very well in standard situations — Tannehill was 9-of-10 for 122 yards on first and second downs outside the last two minutes of either half — while Derrick Henry obviously ended up with a huge day after that slower start. I actually laughed when the Titans came out run, run, running down nine after that ludicrous Mahomes jump pass to Hardman for the touchdown, but they did it efficiently and quickly enough, even going to no-huddle, that they had plenty of game to give us another edition of Andy Reid-coached teams vs. game management and not making costly mistakes in critical situations that let you close out a win.

Atlanta Falcons 26 at New Orleans Saints 9

Andrew Potter: The Falcons come out running all over the Saints on the opening drive in the Superdome, but consecutive false starts in the red zone push them back to first-and-20 from the 23. That forces Atlanta away from their run game, and three plays later Younghoe Koo puts through a field goal. An encouraging opening though; four of their first six carries went for a first down, and the only one to gain less than 4 yards still got a first via penalty.

Saints respond with a field goal of their own: after driving to the 5-yard-line, a rare Falcons sack brings up fourth-and-goal from the 11.

Bryan Knowles: The Falcons taking a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter is the most eye-opening score of the early window so far. No defense really wants to play today, at least outside the red zone. We’ve now had an 11-play Falcons drive (ending in a field goal), a 10-play Saints drive (ending in a field goal) and now a 17-play Falcons drive, capped with Matt Ryan finding Austin Hooper in the end zone for a touchdown. That’s the third-most plays on any drive this year. No big plays, a couple of third-downs salvaged by Saints penalties, and just death by a thousand papercuts.

Andrew Potter: That fourth-down conversion leads, eventually, to a touchdown strike to Austin Hooper. This time, the penalties helped rather than hindered the Falcons: the Saints have already been called three times for hands to the face, two of them on that touchdown drive, and a Marshon Lattimore hold against Julio Jones turned a third-and-5 into first-and-goal. At 10-3, the Falcons’ ball-control game plan is working so far.

Vince Verhei: Marshon Lattimore is out of the game, and Julio Jones just had his first catch of the day, a 50-plus-yard gain. The drive stalls in the red zone when Matt Ryan takes a third-down sack, but Younghoe Koo kicks a field goal and the Falcons lead 13-3 inside the two-minute warning.

Andrew Potter: A Wil Lutz field goal gives us a 13-6 halftime score, shockingly in favor of the Falcons. The story of the first quarter was running and penalties, but in the second it was the Falcons defense. Dan Quinn moved Raheem Morris to defensive backs coach during the bye week, and the result appears to be significantly improved coverage that has forced Brees to hold the ball too long. That has allowed a poor Falcons pass rush to get home a couple of times, leading once to a field goal and a second time to a punt. Ten points from four drives is a much lower scoring rate than most people would have expected; we’ll see if that picks up in the second half.

Also, Marshon Lattimore is questionable to return, with no specifics yet about the injury. Lattimore went off just before the 54-yard catch-and-run for Julio Jones, who is now being covered by Eli Apple.

Vince Verhei: Michael Thomas is putting up some highlights today. He showed some amazing toe-drag swag earlier, dragging his feet at the sideline for a catch. Now in the third quarter, he takes a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that was so hard it knocked his helmet off but hangs on to the ball. That sets up a Saints field goal that cuts Atlanta’s lead to 13-9.

Andrew Potter: The helmet hit reception was actually Tre’Quan Smith.

Aaron Schatz: Saints were sixth in lowest adjusted sack rate on offense this year. Atlanta dead-last in adjusted sack rate on defense. They had only seven sacks all year. Somehow the Falcons have sacked Drew Brees four times with 11 minutes left.

Andrew Potter: Yet another coverage sack ends yet another Saints drive. This is exactly the type of game where the Saints’ lack of receiver depth shows up. Michael Thomas is 8-of-8 for 87 yards; Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith are 1-for-4 for 13 yards, with the Smith highlight Vince mentioned offset by one bad Ginn drop. The only non-Thomas target with any production at all is tight end Jared Cook. Hopefully this is a one-off, otherwise it’s a deeply worrying performance off the bye.

Andrew Potter: The Saints just threw up another penalty implosion. Roughing the kicker on a fourth-and-11 punt gives the Falcons yet another first down on a third- or fourth-down stop. Worse, it puts the Falcons in scoring range, already up 20-9.

Aaron Schatz: Falcons are now up to six sacks. Again, they had seven coming into today.

Andrew Potter: Koo’s fourth successful field goal means this one is over. The only remaining intrigue is whether the Falcons will get the one sack they need to double their season-long total in one game.

Update: they did not, but they did finally force an incompletion to Michael Thomas with five seconds left. Thomas was 12-for-12 prior to that.

New York Giants 27 ‘at’ New York Jets 34

Vince Verhei: Fun moment on radio on the Jets’ opening drive. The color commentator (I did not catch their name, but it was the national broadcast) was noting that Sam Darnold had room to run if he kept the ball on an option play. So the Jets reach the red zone, and Darnold indeed keeps the ball. The play-by-play guy is completely fooled, as are the Giants, as they’re all focused on Le’Veon Bell being hit behind the line. By the time they figured out what was going on, Darnold was in the end zone. That’s the Jets’ third rushing touchdown of the year, and their third straight game with an opening-drive touchdown.

Scott Spratt: Is Daniel Jones the Giants’ kick holder? Because he couldn’t handle the snap and rolled out on an extra point attempt. The pass was shockingly close to being converted through about four Jets defenders, so I’m assuming it was Jones making the throw.

Bryan Knowles: It’s Riley Dixon, actually. Not a bad little pass, honestly.

Scott Spratt: Then major props to Riley Dixon!

Vince Verhei: Giants go for it on fourth-and-4 at the 39. Darius Slayton scorches Nate Hairston on a slant route for an easy first down. Worse, safety Matthias Farley takes a horrible angle from the middle of the field, and never even gets in position to attempt a tackle. Slayton scoots into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. They blow the extra point, so the Jets still lead 14-13.

Bryan Knowles: The Giants have turned the ball over in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL (pending the Steelers game).

Jamal Adams just ripped the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands and brought it right into the end zone to make it a 21-13 Jets lead. Jones has a massive fumbling problem.

Scott Spratt: Haha, Jamal Adams just pulled a Danny Bateman from The Replacements. I guess it’s a strip sack, but he just took the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands. Also, he returned it for a touchdown.

Bryan Knowles: Seriously, Adams just decided no, you’re going to hand the ball to me now, Daniel. Just look at this.

Vince Verhei: We’ve talked about Daniel Jones’ poor pocket presence before, right? Jamal Adams just ran up right into his face, pulled the ball away, and ran into the end zone. Technically it’s a sack and fumble recovery for Adams, but it looked more like a handoff.

Vince Verhei: And the Giants answer right away. Bubble screen to Golden Tate goes for a 61-yard touchdown. Giants’ YAC numbers are going to look good today.

Vince Verhei: Giants go for two to tie the game, but the conversion is wiped out by a penalty. After moving back, they decide to kick for 1, but the kick is no good. So the Jets still lead 21-19, which sounds like a prime scorigami candidate.

Bryan Knowles: It’s worth noting, with how much we pointed and laughed at the Jamal Adams fumble-takeaway, that Daniel Jones is the third rookie in the modern era (since 1950) to throw at least one touchdown in his first eight starts. Before Giants fans get too happy about that, note that the other two are Mike Glennon and Baker Mayfield, so no promise of future superstardom there, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Bryan Knowles: Anyone else have the Giants-Jets being the most entertaining game of the (admittedly weak) early window? It is, by record, likely to be the worst Battle of New York ever (beating out the 1996 match between Rich Kotite’s 1-15 Jets and Dan Reeves’ 6-10 Giants), and yet, it has been really fun and back-and-forth and all that. This time, a 33-yard pass interference call sets up Le’Veon Bell for the 1-yard touchdown plunge, and the Jets take the lead back, 31-27. Almost entirely meaningless, but hey — bragging rights on the line, right?

Vince Verhei: Actually, considering how weak the schedule looked in the early slate today, most of the games have been close and dramatic, Ravens-Bengals aside. Even newsworthy, considering the Saints and Chiefs are both in serious danger of being upset.

Buffalo Bills 16 at Cleveland Browns 19

Aaron Schatz: The Browns just had eight plays inside the 2 and couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. Two defensive penalties gave them new first downs, but they ended up getting stuffed on fourth-and-1. In total, Nick Chubb had five carries for -2 yards.

Vince Verhei: The Browns just had a first-and-goal, again (from the 3 this time), and failed to score a touchdown, again, in part because Chubb lost yards at the goal line, again. They do at least get a field goal this time for a 9-7 lead. Can’t fault Freddie Kitchens for kicking that one considering how ineffective they’ve been in that scenario already today.

Vince Verhei: It turns out Cleveland’s offense is terrible at both ends of the field. A Bills punt sticks them at the 8, and on first down Baker Mayfield is sacked for a game-tying safety.

Scott Spratt: Play of the day. Josh Allen fumbles near the goal line and right guard Jon Feliciano picks it up and ballet dives into the end zone. He is Houdini!

Devastatingly, the refs ruled him down on the one, and the Bills had to settle for a boring Frank Gore touchdown.

Vince Verhei: Maybe the weirdest game of the day just got even weirder. On third-and-10 in the red zone, Josh Allen scrambles, but has the ball knocked out of his hands after just a 4-yard gain. However, the ball is swatted FORWARD, so when Jon Feliciano falls on it for Buffalo, it’s a first-and-goal at the 1. Frank Gore dives in from there and the Bills are up — but the play is reversed on replay. So Allen sneaks it in on second-and-goal, and NOW the BIlls lead 16-12 with about five and a half minutes to go.

Vince Verhei: Mayfield and Browns suck at SHOVeLL passes. He threw an interception on one a few weeks ago, which is almost impossible. Now, he throws one behind his receiver, which also seems impossible, and the ball hits the turf. The Bills scoop it up and run it back, but the play is correctly reversed to an incomplete pass, not a fumble, on replay. But man, these passes travel like 24 inches through the air — completing them should not be that hard!

Bryan Knowles: And while we’re all gaping at the Chiefs-Titans game, the Browns march back down the field. That ShoVELL does in fact get overturned, and the Browns march 82 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Great pass to Jarvis Landry sets it up; touchdown to Rashard Higgins. Browns take a 19-16 lead as they try to keep their season alive!

Vince Verhei: With the way this game has gone, I figured that Jarvis Landry’s big catch that gave Cleveland a first-and-goal was the worst thing that could have happened to the Browns, but no — on second down, Mayfield hits Rashad Higgins, who is still on the team, for the go-ahead score. It’s not over yet though — the Bills will have 1:44 to tie or take the lead.

Bryan Knowles: Buffalo drives it back into field goal range to tie the game, but Stephen Hauschka misses his second kick of the day! Browns pull off the upset, and THEY’RE still alive! Big, big happenings in the AFC playoff race in the past five minutes.

Baltimore Ravens 49 at Cincinnati Bengals 13

Bryan Knowles: I guess against a winless team, you can bust out some fun stuff from the bottom of your playbook. The Ravens just ran an option play where Lamar Jackson flipped it to Robert Griffin III. Because that’s what the Ravens’ offense needs — more mobile quarterbacks in the backfield. I’m waiting for the Ravens to pitch it to RGIII and then throw it back to Jackson — he’d probably make a good receiver, don’t you know.

Scott Spratt: I’ve been surprised by how elusive Ryan Finley has been for the Bengals. He didn’t run much at either Boise State or North Carolina State, but he has had a 16-yard first-down carry and eluded a sack to extend a play.

Of course as I type this, Finley throws a brutal pick-six to Marcus Peters. 28-3 Ravens.

Scott Spratt: Oh my god, Lamar Jackson just had the best run of his career. It was a Barry Sanders stutter step plus a nasty spin move. We need to find the clip of this. 47-yard touchdown.

Bryan Knowles: “He is Houdini” is going to get replayed a couple of times over Jackson’s career.

Scott Spratt: The Ravens haven’t actually pulled their starters, but fullback Patrick Ricard was still playing defense and strip-sacked Ryan Finley. Tyus Bowser took that to the house for the Ravens’ second defensive touchdown of the day.

Scott Spratt: The Bengals kick a field goal to cut their deficit to 49-13. I’ll have to check with the Edj guys to see if that was a good decision hehe.

Bryan Knowles: The Bengals’ loss means they cannot win the AFC North. Well, I mean, their total lack of talent means they cannot win the AFC North, but they’re the first team this year to be mathematically eliminated from divisional contention. I really would have thought the Dolphins would have beat them to that, but nope!

Vince Verhei: The Ravens said after the game that the personnel group with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin, and Mark Ingram on the field at the same time is … the Heisman package.

Arizona Cardinals 27 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30

Scott Spratt: Wow, classic Larry Fitzgerald catch there. While being held, he stretched out to tip the ball to himself with one hand down the left sideline. Frankly, I’m still stunned Fitz has one drop this season according to Sports Info Solutions.

Bryan Knowles: Jameis Winston, living dangerously on the one-minute drill. Already with a pick today, Winston toss a dangerous, dangerous pass to O.J. Howard, who managed to haul it in over triple-coverage to get the ball inside the 10 with 12 seconds left. Just time for one more play before kicking the field goal, and Winston takes advantage of some Arizona confusion in the secondary to hit Howard for a much easier catch in the end zone. 17-13 Buccaneers as we go into the half.

Howard already has four receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. That ties his season high for receptions, and almost beats his season high for yards. Maybe the Buccaneers should look for him a little more often?

Scott Spratt: Arizona has the No. 32 DVOA against tight ends, and in related news, O.J. Howard just scored a touchdown. Still, I can’t believe that was his first touchdown of the season. Do you guys think this has been a Bruce Arians thing? He never had a productive tight end in Arizona, but I don’t think he ever had that kind of player on his roster, either.

Andrew Potter: It’s definitely an Arians thing. Howard is playing a ton, just not as a pass target.

Bryan Knowles: I’ll see Scott’s play of the day, and raise you this reverse flea-flicker fake punt.

Bryan Knowles: While we’re all distracted by Chiefs-Titans and Bills-Browns, the BUCCANEERS march back down the field and score a go-ahead touchdown. For a lame early slate of games on paper, we’ve had some phenomenal football over the past half-hour.

Vince Verhei: So much drama going on right now! The Bucs just drove 92 yards in six plays with Peyton Barber scoring from 1 yard out to put Tampa Bay ahead. Biggest play may have been an incompletion to Mike Evans that was reversed to DPI by the replay official to set the Bucs up at the 1. From there, I don’t know why you don’t sneak it with your 6-foot-4 quarterback, but you can’t argue with the results.

But DPI is a double-edged sword — the Cardinals get a fourth-down conversion when Vernon Hargreaves interferes with Christian Kirk (who is having a massive game with three touchdowns).

Bryan Knowles: Speaking of pass interference, was that last chuck-and-pray play NOT pass interference? Kyler Murray threw it into a crowd, and it sure looked like Tampa Bay got there too early, but no flag, and the game’s over. Buccaneers snap their losing streak.

Scott Spratt: Jamel Dean definitely interfered with Pharoh Cooper on that last Cardinals throw. Refs didn’t call it, and the Bucs win 30-27.

Vince Verhei: That looked to me like the refs deciding they were not going to bail out a quarterback making a desperate throw under pressure to a receiver who was not open.

Los Angeles Rams 12 at Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Bryan Knowles: I mentioned earlier that the Giants had the longest streak of games with a turnover, pending the Steelers game. Well, now we have the Steelers game, and on the second play of the game, the snap goes way over Mason Rudolph’s head. Dante Fowler scoops (or, rather, the ball bounces right into his hands) and scores. 7-0 Rams in the first 20 seconds of the game.

Vince Verhei: It’s not quite Peyton Manning opening the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, but early in Pittsburgh’s first drive, the snap goes flying over Mason Rudolph’s head, and Dante Fowler returns the fumble for a touchdown. Rams up 7-0 and the game’s not even 30 seconds old.

Vince Verhei: More sloppiness in this game. Jared Goff is under pressure and lobs a pass to his receiver in the flat, way over his head and out of bounds. But Mike Tomlin challenges the play, and the pass is overturned into a fumble and a loss of 9. Was the difference between second-and-10 and second-and-19 in L.A. territory really worth a challenge? Regardless, it works, and the Rams punt.

Vince Verhei: This game may have already topped Bills-Browns on the weirdness scale. Rudolph is intercepted, but the Rams are called for holding and DPI on the play. Sean McVay throws the challenge flag, claiming the ball was tipped and so there cannot be DPI. It’s a first-and-10 for Pittsburgh either way, the only difference is field position. However, because it’s a turnover, the play is automatically reviewed, and you can’t challenge those — so McVay is charged with a timeout. And then the review determines the ball was not tipped, so the DPI stands. Rudolph hits James Washington for a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 shortly thereafter.

Bryan Knowles: Excellent foot control by James Washington, catching the ball over Marcus Peters and somehow bending his right leg to scrape his foot inbounds before his knee hit out of bounds for a touchdown.

Interesting drive to get there. Play was stopped for quite some time as the officials tried to untangle a pass interference call that negated an interception. Sean McVay threw a challenge flag on that one — not to directly challenge the pass interference, mind you, but to challenge that the ball was tipped beforehand, which would negate the pass interference. That seems like it would have a higher chance of working than your general pass interference challenge. Confusingly, though, they rule that the Rams can’t challenge, because it was a turnover. But, because of the penalties, shouldn’t it have NOT been a turnover? And thus the Rams would have had to challenge? The rule isn’t entirely clear to me, nor did it seem entirely clear to anyone on the field.

Bryan Knowles: We’re halfway through the second quarter. The Rams just completed their third pass of the day.

Derrik Klassen: Jared Goff with a few errant passes on the last drive. Missed a deep over to Cooper Kupp (a tough throw, but it was there) and a shorter one to Todd Gurley. Being thoroughly out-dueled by Mason Rudolph right now, which is not to say anything of Rudolph.

Vince Verhei: This game is drunk. James Washington has a big catch-and-run into Rams territory, but Nickell Robey-Coleman knocks the ball free and the Rams recover. Then Jared Goff is hit as he’s trying to pass, and though the ball travels a dozen yards beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s ruled a fumble, and Minkah Fitzpatrick recovers and returns for a Pittsburgh touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Some weird fumbles going on in this one. Pittsburgh is carving the Rams up with dig route after dig route, but James Washington has the ball punched out as he’s streaking deep into Rams territory, picked up and recovered by the Rams. Three plays later, Jared Goff is sacked, and flings the ball downfield as it’s happening. The refs rule that his arm was not going forward — empty hand, so it’s a loose ball, which Minkah Fitzpatrick (again!) scoops up and returns into the end zone. 14-7 Steelers.

Vince Verhei: Rams miss a 56-yard field goal try as the first half ends. Their eight drives: that missed kick, a lost fumble, and six punts. They haven’t been inside the Pittsburgh 30 yet. They’ve given up three sacks. This may end up being their worst offensive game since they moved back to L.A.

Aaron Schatz: At halftime, the Rams offense looks discombobulated. Goff has only one official pass to Cooper Kupp, which he dropped on the final drive of the half. The only other throw to Kupp was the pass Derrik mentioned which ended up getting called as DPI. Goff is only 9-for-19 at the half with 111 yards, and 38 yards came on the final drive of the half which ended in a missed 56-yard field goal attempt by Greg Zuerlein. The offensive line is not playing well today, center Brian Allen got injured and went out and so they are rotating his backups, and there are three penalties so far on various offensive linemen.

Bryan Knowles: We’re going into halftime at 14-7 in a game where neither team has really looked good. Jared Goff is 9-for-19 for 111 yards, and he’s just looking nothing at all like the player who helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl just last year. I have to think it has to do with a lack of confidence in his offensive line, but I’m not sure that’s enough to explain all of his step back this year. They’re 0-for-7 on third downs today; they just can’t stay on the field. Meanwhile, their defense is having a really hard time stopping anybody; Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all have 20-plus-yard receptions already today. When you can’t move the ball on offense, and you can’t stop the ball on defense, you’re going to have a bad time. They should feel fortunate they’re just down a touchdown at this point.

Bryan Knowles: Jared Goff takes a big hit and limps off the field, so we have a Blake Bortles sighting for Los Angeles.

Vince Verhei: No, Goff was not benched. He got hit and fell on his hip, and Blake Bortles came in to run the ensuing third-and-2. He kept the ball on an ugly read-option play and did not convert.

Rams then try a fake punt, but Johnny Hekker is hit as he throws and Terrell Edmunds intercepts the ball. Steelers take over at the L.A. 31.

Bryan Knowles: But Bortles is not the next player to attempt a pass for the Rams! It’s Johnny Hekker, punt-passer extraordinaire, as the Rams attempt a fake punt!

… and it’s intercepted by Trey Edmunds. Edmunds is a running back, so I assume that’s his first career interception on any level. This game is very, very strange.

The Steelers have two “T.Edmunds” on their team, which is annoying for quickly checking these things!

Derrik Klassen: Rams love to go empty between the opposing 10- and 30-yard lines. Something to look for every time they’re on. Just turned to it on their last third down. Goff completed a pass just short of the sticks, but the defense caught a penalty anyway and the Rams converted.

Bryan Knowles: You’ve pointed that out before, Derrik, and now I can’t NOT see it.

In fact, it feels like the Rams are doing mostly the same things they’ve been doing for three years at this point. I mean, it’s been working up until this year, but it feels like they haven’t really added new wrinkles since 2017.

Vince Verhei: Aaron Donald sacks Rudolph for a safety. The defenses have now scored 16 points in this game; the offenses have scored 10.

Vince Verhei: Heh. Clinging to a two-point lead, the Steelers go for it on fourth-and-1 from their end of the field. Rudolph converts with a play-action completion to Samuels … and the Pittsburgh fans in this bar are STILL mad at Tomlin, even when he succeeds.

I will say this, given the way the offenses have played today, I probably would have punted there.

Vince Verhei: OK, this is now the weirdest game of the year. Chris Boswell was just flagged for a false start. Chris Boswell. The kicker.

Fortunately for him, even after the penalty, he nails the field goal, and Pittsburgh goes up 17-12 with 2:46 to go.

Bryan Knowles: One of the strangest football games I can remember ends with the Steelers pulling it out, 17-12.

We had an interception thrown by a punter and caught by a running back. We had a false start on a kicker. We had an empty-hand fumble deep downfield. We had a snap go over a quarterback’s head. We had a Blake Bortles sighting, which is always a weird thing. We had a safety. We had Cooper Kupp getting shut out. Just … like, what the hell was this football game?

Carolina Panthers 16 at Green Bay Packers 24

Scott Spratt: The Panthers score first in Green Bay. Key play of the drive was a blown-coverage completion to D.J. Moore, and his receiver teammate Curtis Samuel punched in the touchdown near the goal line. 7-0 Panthers.

Bryan Knowles: The first game of the post-Newton era (maybe?) is a tough one for the Panthers, but they’re not just giving in. D.J. Moore finds himself wide open, all alone as the Packers just completely lose him in their zone. That completion moves the ball into the red zone, and a few plays later, Kyle Allen finds Curtis Samuel in the front corner of the end zone to open the scoring. 7-0 Panthers, midway through the first.

Bryan Knowles: Seems like the more opportunity Curtis Samuel gets, the better he looks. Samuel just slipped by across the corner of the end zone to get free in the flat for a quick touchdown pass from Kyle Allen. It has taken Samuel time to come around, but he’s growing into a complete, dangerous receiver as capable of stressing down the field as he is in the short area.

Scott Spratt: It’s snowing in Green Bay at this point.

Aaron Jones runs in a touchdown against the No. 32 DVOA defense against the run, and this game is tied.

Scott Spratt: Kyle Allen had done a better job of holding onto the ball since the Texans game, but he mishandles a snap to lose a fumble at midfield. Packers ball down 10-7.

Bryan Knowles: Great drive by the Packers here to end the first half, but it’s fair to wonder if they should have had the chance at all. Facing third-and-13 pinned deep in their own territory, Rodgers was knocked to the ground by Gerald McCoy. McCoy basically hit Rodgers in a textbook fashion, the way the NFL has been telling players to hit the quarterback … but he still gets flagged for the bodyweight rule. The fresh set of downs re-sparks the Packers offense, who basically drives out the last 4:30 of the half on their way to a score to make it 20-10. Several great plays by Jimmy Graham on that drive, burning Luke Kuechly for a 48-yard gain and coming back with the touchdown to cap it off. Full credit for the drive POST-penalty, but I don’t know about that flag at all.

Bryan Knowles: Whoop, take that Graham touchdown off the board; it was ruled incomplete. And then Carolina holds on the ensuing play, which should set up a Packers field goal … but the refs throw ANOTHER couple of flags on Carolina in the end zone. These flags were better — a little ticky-tack, but well within the normal range of flags you’ll see in a game. Anyway, all that drains the clock down to two seconds, so Green Bay has one play from the goal line … and the Carolina defense holds, getting great penetration and stuffing Williams 3 yards in the backfield.

So it’s 14-10 at the half. Weird, weird way for the half to end.

Andrew Potter: The roughing flag was hot garbage. There was no foul of any description on Rodgers. McCoy even specifically landed to the side away from Rodgers, and still got called for something that literally didn’t happen.

Fortunately, the Panthers stiffen in the red zone, and a stunning goal-line play by Gerald McCoy and others with two seconds remaining means Green Bay gets no points from the drive.

Vince Verhei: Graham’s touchdown is wiped out on review — he never got two feet down in bounds. So the drive continues, and Rodgers throws incomplete on third-and-goal. Panthers are called for DPI, so Green Bay gets a first-and-goal, but with only 2 seconds left. They still sent the offense out there, and Jamal Williams is stuffed for a loss. A 12-play, 89-yard drive ends in no points.

Carl Yedor: What a crazy end of the half in this one. Green Bay has the ball pinned back inside its 10 with a third-and-13 when Gerald McCoy gets questionably called for roughing the passer via the bodyweight rule. With a freshly extended drive, the Packers drive all the way down the field and get stopped on third down, setting up a potential field goal from the goal line with two seconds left. However, Carolina is flagged for pass interference in the end zone, giving the Packers a first down and one play to either kick or go for it. After some dithering about that forces Green Bay to use its final timeout, Green Bay chooses to go for the touchdown, but McCoy makes a FANTASTIC play to shoot into the backfield, stuff a run for a loss, and end the half without Green Bay scoring.

Bryan Knowles: Green Bay makes up for their end-of-half failures with a series of quick strikes — a 38-yard pass to Adams and a 28-yard run by Jones, setting up Jones’ third touchdown of the day. Carolina looks to answer back immediately, but Kyle Allen’s pass into the end zone is intercepted by Tramon Williams. Packers have a 21-10 lead and the ball.

Vince Verhei: Packers miss a field goal, but the Panthers are called for illegal formation for covering the center. Looked like Luke Kuechly was signaling for them to shift right as the ball was snapped, and he was too early. Given a second chance, Packers hit the kick, and lead 24-10 at the end of the third.

Vince Verhei: Christian McCaffrey has 80 yards on 14 carries, but it’s a quiet 80. Feels like about half that.

Vince Verhei: McCaffrey runs in a touchdown, leaving the Panthers down by eight … and they do the smart thing and go for two! Unfortunately, after hanging in the pocket forever, Kyle Allen throws an incompletion. But someday we’ll see a team win by going for two down eight, and that will be a great day.

Bryan Knowles: The Panthers score a touchdown down 14 and go for two! And it’s correctly called the right analytics call by RedZone! Huzzah!

They don’t GET the two, mind you, so it’s 24-16 Packers, but it’s nice to see The Math trickling down.

Bryan Knowles: Mmmm. Facing fourth-and-3 on the Carolina 38, with 2:32 left in the game … the Packers ran the “try to get them to jump” play. You’re up eight! You have two chances for your defense not to blow it — don’t give up the touchdown, don’t give up the conversion. A first down allows you to drain another minute at least! Any score probably wins the game! Go for it, already!

Instead, Carolina has a chance…

Carl Yedor: Carolina forces a stop to get the ball back with just over two minutes to go. Allen has a chance to lead a game-tying drive here, but he nearly gets picked off on the second play of the drive after scrambling to his right. Jaire Alexander really should have had a pick-six to end the game, but instead, Carolina still has the ball at the two-minute warning.

Bryan Knowles: Great drive by Kyle Allen in the snow, and it all comes down to one play … I love the call to run McCaffrey at the end of the game, but the left guard whiffed his block. McCaffrey is stopped short, and the Packers hold on to win. What a finish.

Vince Verhei: I know there are no moral victories in the NFL, but at the same time there is no shame into going into Green Bay against a division leader with your backup quarterback and coming within two plays from the 2-yard line of victory. That Ron Rivera can coach, man.

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Toronto FC

Vince Verhei: The Sounders just went up 2-0 in the second half of the MLS Cup and this bar is going BONKERS.

Aaron Schatz: Sure, Vince can provide MLS Cup updates, but none of us are watching the CFL semifinals.

Vince Verhei: The Sounders get a third goal in the 86th minute to pretty much ice this one. There were some nervous fans around me when Toronto scored in extra time, but it was too little, too late, and Seattle wins the MLS Cup with a 3-1 final.

Tom Gower: I’m watching the Big East women’s soccer tournament final. Does that count?

Miami Dolphins 16 at Indianapolis Colts 12

Scott Spratt: Brian Hoyer way overthrows his intended target, and the Dolphins’ second pick set them up in the red zone. They’re already up 3-0. Looking like back-to-back Dolphins wins!

Andrew Potter: Breaking news: Brian Hoyer is still not a guy you want starting games for a playoff contender. Admittedly, his first pick should have been a touchdown reception, but Steven Parker ripped the ball out of the hands of Eric Ebron. The second is all on Hoyer though: he badly misses the open Ebron and drops the ball right into the hands of Bobby McCain.

Scott Spratt: Ryan FitzMagic runs in the touchdown. He is Houdini. Dolphins up 10-0.

Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure Hoyer has started a game for a playoff contender since 2015. Those 2016 Bears and 2017 49ers certainly don’t count. But yeah, in terms of Brady’s Backups, Hoyer’s not even the best one on Indianapolis.

Vince Verhei: With Miami leading 10-0 at halftime, it occurs to me that the real winners of yesterday’s LSU-Alabama game may be … the Dolphins. Joe Burrow’s emergence as, at worst, the second-best quarterback prospect in the class gives the Dolphins twice the shot of getting the franchise passer they seek, even if they don’t get the first overall pick. There’s also at least a reasonable chance that the Bengals would take hometown kid Chase Young first overall if they end up with the pick, though they of course will need a quarterback too. Regardless, the scenarios in which Miami somehow fails to get their guy next year have been significantly cut.

Vince Verhei: Darius Leonard intercepts Ryan Fitzpatrick on the first play of the fourth quarter, and it appears he has scored a go-ahead pick-six, but it’s ruled that his forward progress was stopped. They just showed a replay, and … man, that was a fast whistle for that call. Colts still take over just outside the red zone. Colts overcome it though — Hoyer hits Nyheim Hines for a third-down conversion, then Jack Doyle for a go-ahead touchdown. Colts go ahead in the Journeyman Bowl — but only 12-10, because Adam Vinatieri’s weekly missed kick costs the Colts an extra point.

Dave Bernreuther: Hoyer-to-Doyle puts the sluggish Colts ahead, finally, in the fourth quarter.

I’ve been watching this one from the start, and that’s the first thing other than “I keep thinking the Colts have sent out the punter when I see the number 2” that I have thought of to say. This is not the most compelling of games to be forced to watch.

Bryan Knowles: The Colts just made a massive, massive mistake. Situation: fourth-and-10. Clock is stopped because of an incomplete pass. 45 seconds left in the game. The Colts … take their first time out to discuss the call. That means the Dolphins can run out the clock if they fail; with all three timeouts, Indy could have at least forced a punt. And, indeed, Indy is stopped short, the Dolphins get the ball back, and it’s victory formation for the Dolphins. Two wins in a row for Miami!

The Dolphins have the longest win streak in the AFC East.

Dave Bernreuther: Several plays (and two changes of possession, thanks to a horrid pick thrown by Hoyer) after an unflagged hit to Fitzpatrick’s head, the officials announce that he needs a concussion evaluation. This had to have been a full ten minutes after the hit. So the Fins had to run a drive with Josh Rosen, which may as well have been three kneeldowns.

This game is coming to an exciting conclusion, with the Colts now in the red zone with under a minute left, but it’s still a snoozer. It reminds me a lot of a Jim Sorgi-Cleo Lemon QB bowl in the final week of the 2007 (?) season when the Dolphins had given up on their year — after the Saban affair, if I’m not mistaken — and Sorgi rallied at the end to win a game in which both teams were completely listless, but nobody cared.

In this one, Hoyer misses on first, second, and third down before hitting Ebron for the worst possible failed completion on fourth-and-ballgame, and now a Colts team that could and maybe should have won this division, even after Luck’s retirement, has lost to the tanking Dolphins.

Minnesota Vikings 28 at Dallas Cowboys 24

Bryan Knowles: Fun fact: This is only the second time the Vikings have worn white against the Cowboys; they did back in Week 2 of 1961, and have worn purple in 29 straight games since then, until tonight.

Another fun fact: Kirk Cousins is 1-7 on the road in prime-time games and 4-17-1 against teams with winning records. That one might be slightly less fun.

So far, though, so good for Cousins and the Vikings. The touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph was pretty astonishing; I had no idea Rudolph could make that sort of athletic play. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have settled for a 57-yard field goal (missed) and a punt. Can’t ask for a much better start for Minnesota.

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys have clearly decided that they’re targeting Mike Hughes but guys, Xavier Rhodes has been awful this year. Go ahead and throw at him too.

Bryan Knowles: I blame Dallas’ slow start on the blue uniforms. They used to think these things were cursed, and they’re 3-6 in them since 2017. Gotta respect the uni lore, Cowboys.

Scott Spratt: Ugh, how did I end up seeing Coach K during the SNF broadcast?

Bryan Knowles: Dallas, as is rapidly becoming their thing, has fired back well to get to 14-14. One of these weeks, Dallas will have to try building to a lead and then holding it!

Dallas is now 7-for-10 on third downs. Minnesota just can’t get off the field, and it’s killing them.

Dave Bernreuther: I blame Dallas’s 14-point comeback on the blue uniforms, Bryan. Because they are great.

They look stupid with those white pants, though. Not really sure what’s going on there.

Aaron Schatz: I noted in the Upset Watch column that Dak Prescott leads the league in ESPN’s QBR on blitzes. And the Vikings are blitzing a lot.

Bryan Knowles: The blue uniforms (which are terrible) do look worse with the white pants. They’ve gone to that combo once a year since 2017, and it doesn’t really work. It was alright with their star-shouldered throwbacks they wore from 2009 to 2012, but they look kinda wrong with the standard blues.

Bryan Knowles: Amari Cooper is having one hell of a game. Two toe-tapping receptions on one drive, including the go-ahead touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: Good job by the Vikings, going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2. 13-play, 75-yard drive that was mostly runs. Then they pass for the two-point conversion to make it 28-21. Kyle Rudolph has two touchdowns and now the two-point conversion. Dallas was 31st in DVOA against tight ends before this week.

Aaron Schatz: Prescott has been just out of his gourd on third downs tonight.

Tom Gower: And he has needed to be, because the Cowboys keep donating first downs with ineffective running.

Aaron Schatz: Hell, it’s not just first downs. Driving for a game-winning touchdown, Dallas just ran Elliott twice with 1:33 left on second-and-2 (no gain) and third-and-2 (loss of 3). So now they’ll have fourth-and-5 for the game.

Bryan Knowles: Speaking of ineffective running, gotta love taking the ball out of your quarterback’s hands, as he’s killing the defense, to let Zeke smash the ball for no yards two plays in a row.

Bryan Knowles: I know he was probably told to do the fair catch on the sidelines, but it sure looked like Tavon Austin had a lane for maybe a touchdown on that punt.

Tom Gower: I’m bummed for Dak Prescott.

Bryan Knowles: It really does feel like Jason Garrett cost Dallas that football game. Kicked a field goal from the Minnesota 5; punted twice between the Minnesota 40 and 48; attempted an insanely long field goal. The Dallas offense is good; Dak Prescott could be in the MVP conversation if his team was winning more. Garrett’s play calling really held them back tonight.

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