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.
Houston Texans 23 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20
Scott Spratt: There’s a report on NFL.com that the Bucs plan to retain Jameis Winston next year.
In related news, Winston threw a horrible pick-six on his first attempt of this game. If you had over 1:03 p.m. for first interception, you lose.
Scott Spratt: Naturally, Winston throws 30 yards in the air on his next play on offense, now down 7-0. The throw was a bit short for de facto No. 1 wideout Breshad Perriman, but Perriman tried to adjust back to catch it and got a bit run over by his defender. No flag on the field, but Bruce Arians is challenging the non-call of defensive pass interference. Crazy start to this game.
Scott Spratt: Arians did not win the challenge. I’m shocked.
Scott Spratt: Hahaha, pick six No. 2. It’s 1:10 p.m. ET. Sadly, the Texans committed an illegal blindside block on the return, so this one will only go down as an interception and not a return touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: I’m 15 minutes late for this game, and Jameis has already gone full Winston. Amazing.
Scott Spratt: The genius of falling down 10-0 is that Winston won’t have to hand off to his backs, and the Texans will be encouraged by the game script to try to run the ball against the Bucs’ No. 1 DVOA run defense. Winston is just two steps ahead of everybody.
Scott Spratt: Wow, this game is bananas. The Bucs go for a fourth down in no man’s land, convert on a super cool sideline leap by Peyton Barber, lose that on a penalty, and then have their 54-yard field goal blocked. What can’t the Bucs do?
Scott Spratt: Here’s my unofficial leaderboard of most first-drive interceptions in a season since 2010:
- Jameis Winston, 2019, 6
- Philip Rivers, 2018, 4
- Eli Manning, 2010, 4
- 16 Players* Tied at 3
*Includes Winston from 2016
Derrik Klassen: The Jameis Winston coin came up tails today. Early in the second quarter, Winston just threw his third pick of the day and it feels like it won’t be his last game. Hope he just goes for the record at this point.
Scott Spratt: This is the greatest game of all time. Duke Johnson lost a fumble, setting the Bucs up already in field goal range. And on the very next play, Winston throws his third pick! And despite all of this, it’s 10-3 Texans. The Bucs are absolutely in this game.
Bryan Knowles: What better way could there possibly be for Jameis Winston to celebrate being brought back in 2020 than by throwing a trifecta of first-half picks?
Aaron Schatz: Winston just has no ability to look off defenders. It’s like the Texans defense knows where the ball is going on every pass.
Scott Spratt: In the spirit of leaderboards, Jim Hardy of the Chicago Cardinals has the NFL record of interceptions in a game with eight against the Eagles in 1950. Winston is on pace!
Derrik Klassen: It’s not even just Winston! Bucs offense might be going for the team-wide record for turnovers in a game.
Scott Spratt: And the most turnovers by both teams in one game is 17! Twice! In 1942 and 1946.
Scott Spratt: Haha, the NFL Network was extremely prepared with that Texans with and without Will Fuller graphic. Fuller is on the sideline with a groin injury and may miss the rest of this game. Again.
Scott Spratt: Someone named Codey McElroy — yes, with an “e” — just caught a 30-yard pass from Winston. McElroy is a third-string tight end. Meanwhile, this is the Buccaneers’ receiver depth chart today: Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Ishmael Hyman, Cyril Grayson, and Spencer Schnell.
And now it’s 17-10 Texans. Bucs still very much in this.
Jameis Winston & Codey McElroy’s 30-yard completion late in the second Qtr had a 9.4% Completion Probability, the second-most improbable completion of the 2019 season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) 21 December 2019
Scott Spratt: Another turnover, this one a deep attempt from Watson that corner Jamel Dean played better than Kenny Stills. And then Winston overthrew Justin Watson for the third time today. Yeah, Watson probably isn’t quite as fast as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Aaron Schatz: McElroy is actually their *fourth*-string tight end. Their third-stringer is a blocker named Antony Auclair who’s out for the season.
Winston just connected with Watson for an 8-yard touchdown and despite the three interceptions the Bucs will go to halftime tied with the Texans which is not a positive statement about the Houston offense and also a microcosm of every Bucs game this year.
Scott Spratt: Winston found Watson that time! Buccaneers touchdown. And it’s somehow 17-17 at the half even though the Buccaneers have turned the ball over five times. Best game ever.
Scott Spratt: Is Deshaun Watson rubbing his right Achilles? He looks kind of uncomfortable and is overthrowing some flat-footed short throws.
Scott Spratt: Amazing, Jameis Winston just faked a lateral on a scramble and somehow converted on a third-and-13.
Aaron Schatz: I think he faked a lateral to nobody. I don’t think there was a Tampa Bay player on that side.
Aaron Schatz: Houston made it down for a go-ahead field goal. Big play was a deep 39-yard pass to DeAndre Carter. Watson has not been throwing deep much today. Tampa Bay defensive backs have done a strong job in coverage.
Carl Yedor: On Houston’s go-ahead field goal drive, DeAndre Carter helped fill in for the injured Fuller by stretching the defense deep for a 39-yard gain. The drive stalled out in the red zone, but Carter will need to contribute even more for the rest of this one as it looked like Kenny Stills came up hobbling at the end of the third-down play (hence why the pass looked intended for nobody). If Carter can’t help stretch the field deep and Stills is actually hurt, the field will likely get more and more compressed, to Aaron’s point on Watson not throwing deep much.
Scott Spratt: Yikes, that fourth-and-3 drop by Cameron Brate. Wide open, directly in the hands, and dropped. Bucs in some trouble now down three points with 3:34 remaining in the fourth.
Scott Spratt: Very cowardly punt on fourth-and-inches by the Texans at midfield with 2:21 left.
Aaron Schatz: O’Brien blew 15% of Game-Winning Chance by punting from midfield with 2:15 left instead of going for it on fourth-and-1.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, it’s nice when the Scramble Conservatism award is locked up before the first game ends. Very nice of Bill O’Brien to take into account our holiday scheduling.
Carl Yedor: Stills is back in, so it looks like it wasn’t anything serious. Houston interestingly goes pass-pass-pass on its drive post-fourth-down stop, but it makes sense given the amount of time left and the strength of the Tampa Bay run defense. The second two passes were a function of the down-and-distance after a first down sack, but rather than completely turtling up, the Texans tried to actually convert the first down. I say “completely” turtling up because they did end up punting on fourth-and-1. I can understand them being concerned with Laremy Tunsil coming out of the game due to injury, but it’s fourth-and-1 at midfield! I’m surprised they didn’t at least try to challenge the spot/try to draw Tampa Bay offsides (which are admittedly fairly cheesy when you could just go for it), but they seem like pretty low-risk ways to try to pick up the first down right there.
Carl Yedor: Doesn’t end up mattering. Winston throws another pick with a minute and a half left, and that will wrap this one up.
Scott Spratt: But wait! There’s a holding penalty to stop the clock. Bucs may get a little time on another possession.
Aaron Schatz: How does Houston not just kneel there? Why run and risk the penalty?
Andrew Potter: We could have confusing coaching, conservatism, and KCW all in this fourth quarter — and all for the team that won the game. Just another Bill O’Brien coaching clinic.
Carl Yedor: That is some major clock mismanagement. They could have just kneeled! Assuming no penalty, Tampa would have called their last timeout with about 1:25ish to go. If Houston runs it all the way down on second and third down, there would have maybe been threeish seconds, which Houston could have then used on a punt or a fourth-down play where they just send a guy deep down the field and have Watson throw it long but not in any danger of being picked off. They also kept running after the holding for some reason, risking another holding penalty.
Houston ends up winning anyway, but that whole sequence was mind-numbing.
Bryan Knowles: The Texans are the AFC South champions! It means that their game in Week 17 will matter, at least for 3 vs. 4 seeding. A loss, plus a Chiefs win and a Titans loss, would have locked them into the No. 4 seed and let them rest up next week. We’ll see how Bill O’Brien plays that one; if the Patriots win, the Texans will be locked out of a bye, and how hard do you go to avoid the Bills/play the Titans or Steelers? Interesting coaching decisions coming up for a, uh, interesting coach.
Rivers McCown: Hey, I just want you to know if you’re reading this that I trust you to manage a football game more than I trust Bill O’Brien. I don’t trust you to be a head coach or command respect or anything, but purely on the actual game calls, you’re my call.
Buffalo Bills 17 at New England Patriots 24
Scott Spratt: The Bills completely bit on that screen fake, but safety Jordan Poyer chased Rex Burkhead down from behind and punched the ball loose. Turnover Patriots, and the Bills are set up on their first drive in Patriots territory.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots have now used the pistol twice on their second drive of the game. I’ve never seen them use the pistol before. This is weird. By the way, I remember the Broncos started using the pistol in Peyton Manning’s final season. Just saying.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots score on an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt LaCosse. Most of that drive featured linebacker Elandon Roberts as a fullback. He had some nice blocks as Sony Michel had three straight runs for 25 total yards in the middle of the drive. 7-3 Patriots.
Bryan Knowles: Nice response drive from Tom Brady and the Pats, marching back down the field to take a 7-3 lead. Long drive, lots of creative play calls — bringing in Elandon Roberts as a fullback, plenty of play-action and trickery. Feels like they’ve opened the sealed Postseason Playbook, and not a moment too soon.
Scott Spratt: A lot of Patriots fans dressed as Grinches today. I’ve heard their footballs are three sizes too small.
Carl Yedor: Josh Allen misses Cole Beasley on third-and-long from around midfield, giving the ball back to New England after their touchdown drive. New England’s defense feels like a particularly bad matchup for Allen given his struggles against man coverage. A good punt pins New England at the 1. I thought we might be commenting on the punting a lot today, but if New England’s offense can keep up their hot start, that could end up being much more relevant for Buffalo.
Scott Spratt: So N’Keal Harry is actually super good, right? I haven’t seen a lot of him this year, but his last two catches showed some impressive speed and the strength to avoid a dead-to-rights tackle. What do you guys who watch more Patriots think of him?
Carl Yedor: Another good drive from New England given their starting field position, though they stall out at the edge of the red zone and are forced to settle for three. The Patriots converted their first five third downs, as well as a fourth-and-1 after they finally failed on a third down, before finally being unable to convert from third-and-14 prior to the field goal. That level of third-down conversion performance likely won’t continue, but it may not need to with how good New England’s defense has been.
Rivers McCown: Boy, Derrik’s Film Room post on Allen from early this week is really jumping out at me as I watch this game.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots defense is dominating with 30 seconds to go in the second quarter yet it is only 10-3. Burkhead’s fumble and a bad illegal block in the back penalty on Brandon Bolden are keeping the Bills in this game but their offense is doing nothing. They just ran a third-down give-up draw and it increased their yards per play this half from 2.2 to 2.8. Stephon Gilmore has fully erased John Brown, as Brown hasn’t been targeted once.
Bryan Knowles: The first 29:30 was all New England, but after N’Keal Harry got stopped short on a fourth-and-1, the Bills finally Do A Thing on offense. Allen scrambles for 9 yards to set up a bomb to Dawson Knox, perhaps making up for a play earlier where Allen just didn’t see Knox in the end zone. Knox is ruled down at the 1, with ten seconds left in the half. And so we get a Saturday special — a Big Guy Touchdown to Dion Dawkins to tie the game at 10. Hey, we have a game!
Carl Yedor: Huge fourth-down stop by Buffalo to keep N’Keal Harry from converting and likely getting the Patriots into field goal range. If the cornerback doesn’t make that tackle, Harry almost definitely sets up a chance for three for New England, and in a game when Buffalo’s offense has been struggling mightily, those three points could have made a huge difference.
I typed that first paragraph but didn’t hit send before the end of the Buffalo drive to end the half, and it’s probably a good thing as they were able to mount a real drive for the first time all game. A deep shot to tight end Dawson Knox sets up the Bills at the 1-yard line, and on second down, we officially have a Big Guy TD as Allen hits tackle Dion Dawkins on a throwback across the field after a short roll to the right for the score. We’re knotted up at 10 heading into halftime.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the worm certainly turned there. N’Keal Harry was stopped on the fourth-and-1; Mohamed Sanu blew a block and Kevin Johnson made a fantastic tackle. But then … just a really well-called drive by Brian Daboll. Allen didn’t scramble. It was a 16-yard draw play, that play was a run all the way. Great call with the Patriots giving lots of space up the middle. Then a 9-yarder to Cole Beasley. Then the Dawson Knox pass, the one really good pass Allen has had in the first half, but it was hugely important. And then the tackle-eligible play, smart, had the Patriots confused.
Carl Yedor: Today is sort of the Josh Allen experience in a nutshell. Looks totally lost early, sloppy footwork leading to incompletions, but then makes an off-balance throw for a big play thanks to his cannon arm. That was a heck of a throw to put Buffalo up 17-13.
Bryan Knowles: Well, they finally found a way to get John Brown open. Allen did a pretty good job standing in coverage, and fired a bomb out to Brown to give Buffalo a 17-13 lead. Gilmore had Brown at the beginning of the play; just a heck of a double-move to get rid of him, and then some poor safety play to get Brown wide open.
New England fans have to be looking jealous at these deep balls; Brady can’t do it anymore.
Aaron Schatz: I’m trying to tell from the replay. Was that Stephon Gilmore in man coverage and Brown killed him with a double-move, or was it Cover-3 and McCourty just missed covering him in the deep middle of the field?
Aaron Schatz: Mohamed Sanu just had another egregious blown run block on a first-and-10 6-yard loss by Sony Michel. Sanu has not had a good game.
Bryan Knowles: I have to give Brady credit for chutzpah, trying to juke a guy in space. I mean, it didn’t work, obviously, but credit for trying. Then the Pats kick a 20-yard field goal to make it a 17-16 game? No, I can’t say I can get behind THAT call.
Bryan Knowles: Rex Burkhead, bouncing off tacklers and scoring. Impressive run!
— NFL (@NFL) 22 December 2019
Andrew Potter: I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a coach choosing to enforce a penalty on the kickoff even though they knew they were going for two. Most would choose to halve the distance to the end zone, I would have thought.
Aaron Schatz: I’m surprised the Patriots chose to take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 15 yards on the kickoff instead of moving the two-point conversion to the 1. They get the two-point conversion anyway, and I guess they wanted to avoid a return from Andre Roberts (our No. 1 return man in 2018) but still, that two-pointer is easier from the 1.
Aaron Schatz: Josh Allen so much better in the second half than he was in the first half. Or is it better to say the last 31 minutes compared to the first 29 minutes to get in that Dawson Knox almost-touchdown pass at the end of the first half? The footwork is better, the accuracy is better, he has made some phenomenal schoolyard throws on broken plays.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots defense holds on at the end. Buffalo got down to the 8-yard line then had a 1-yard loss on a quarterback sweep, an overthrown pass to an open Dawson Knox in the back left corner, a 6-yard sack, and then a ton of pressure on a fourth-down blitz that forced Allen to toss it up for grabs. J.C. Jackson slapped it away from Cole Beasley and the Patriots hold on.
That was almost an era-ending loss. Instead, next week against Miami will be an era-ending win. This is very likely the end of the Patriots’ domination of the AFC East. With Brady clearly in decline and possibly not back next year, and the defense likely to regress to the mean in 2020, this team is not going to be at the top of the league yet again. Will Buffalo be the team to finally take the division from them in 2020? I still feel like Allen makes so many mistakes in between his wonderful plays, and their defense is going to face some likely regression too … but they’re the best bet. They’re very well-built in the front office and well-coached.
Rivers McCown: As long as Bill Belichick is around I’ll take the Pats to win the division. Until proven otherwise.
Los Angeles Rams 31 at San Francisco 49ers 34
Bryan Knowles: Hell of an opening drive for the Rams. Jared Goff was rolling out into empty space half the time; 4-for-4 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Looks like the Rams are going to keep Goff running all night to stay out of the teeth of the 49ers’ pass rush. So far, so good. 7-0, Rams.
Bryan Knowles: The Rams take a 14-3 lead, helped in part by the Contractually Mandated Jimmy Garoppolo interception. It is looking like Aaron Donald versus Ben Garland is not an ideal matchup for the 49ers, and the Rams are doubling George Kittle as much as possible. If the 49ers are going to come back, they’ll have to do it through a different receiver.
Scott Spratt: The 49ers have seemed to make an adjustment, relying on screen passes for 19 and 23 yards on back-to-back plays before Deebo Samuel ran in a 19-yard touchdown. 14-10 Rams.
Bryan Knowles: Make that 14-10. The “not George Kittle” in question ended up being Deebo Samuel — 9 yard run and two 19-yard receptions, ending up in the end zone.
Dave Bernreuther: The 49ers answer quickly, or maybe it’d be more accurate to say Deebo Samuel answers quickly … that entire drive seemed to be him racking up yards after the catch-and-running people over like a running back or his Friday movie namesake. Must be taking some lessons from George Kittle.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers aren’t getting any real pressure on Goff. McVay’s doing a great job keeping Goff moving, and the 49ers’ recent problems with contain are raising their head once again. Part of that might be Solomon Thomas replacing Dee Ford, but remember, the 49ers have struggled against mobile quarterbacks all season long (see Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray). Rams up 21-10.
Scott Spratt: Haha, Pam Oliver was reporting that Jalen Ramsey was doubtful to return as he was coming back into the game.
Bryan Knowles: Just in case it wasn’t clear, I’d be up for 16 Shanahan-McVay matchups a year. Add in Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona, and the NFC West is probably the center of bright, exciting play calling in the league at the moment.
And then Brian Schottenheimer also exists.
Raheem Mostert, the forgotten guy in the 49ers’ backfield to start the year, just punched in his sixth touchdown in the last five weeks, cutting the lead to 21-17, Rams. Rams get a chance to answer before halftime.
Scott Spratt: Mostert’s 26.9% rushing DVOA leads all running backs with 100-plus carries this year.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers have been eaten up by the screen all day … until Fred Warner jumps in front of one and takes it back to the house for the score. Niners needed that one. 24-21, with 46 seconds left in the half.
Carl Yedor: Whatever adjustments the 49ers made at halftime to handle screens and rollouts appear to be working quite well, as Goff has been under duress on both of the Rams’ drives in this half, forcing throwaway after throwaway. A missed Greg Zuerlein field goal following a Garoppolo interception has kept the score at 24-21 San Francisco as we near the midpoint of the third quarter.
Bryan Knowles: And now we have the adjustments to the adjustments, as the Rams march down the field. They’ve gone from screens to more medium and deep shots, with Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and Cooper Kupp all bringing in 20-plus-yard gains. Good game! Rams re-take the lead 28-24.
Carl Yedor: Perhaps I spoke too soon. Rams respond after their defense holds again with an impressive touchdown drive culminating in a Cooper Kupp catch. Los Angeles converted two key third downs on that drive, with the deep ball to Woods in addition to the Kupp catch. Shanahan’s turn in the chess match now as the Niners offense needs to respond, with only one first down on its three second-half drives to this point.
Carl Yedor: Instead, the Rams sack Garoppolo on back-to-back plays on San Francisco’s ensuing drive, getting the ball back to Goff and the offense. Los Angeles has been a disappointment this year relative to preseason expectations, but it’s not the defense’s fault, as they ranked eighth in defensive DVOA entering this week.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers had had 28 yards in the second half, and were pinned back on their own 9. Enter the tight ends: Kittle for 36, Dwelly for 25 (and an unnecessary roughness call), and then Kittle in the end zone. The Rams have been smashing Kittle — holding him, quite frankly — but he came through in the nick of time. 31-28 49ers with 6:06 left.
Carl Yedor: It took them awhile, but the 49ers eventually did get their offense going in the second half. After the Rams tied the game at 31 on a 52-yard Zuerlein field goal, the 49ers convert third-and-16 on back-to-back sets of downs (so much for that defense, I guess), featuring a 46-yard bomb to Emmanuel Sanders, setting up the game-winning field goal. Robbie Gould’s kick is good at the horn, and the 49ers escape with a 34-31 win.
Bryan Knowles: Two third-and-16 conversions on one drive is a hell of a thing.
If the 49ers want to play in a non-nailbiter game at some point from here on out, though, I’d be all in favor of it.
Rob Weintraub: Taylor Rapp’s scouting report coming out of the University of Washington was that he was a banging box safety but tended to get lost in coverage and took poor routes to the ball. I’d say that played out on the bomb to Sanders that decided the game.
Apparently Sean McVay called the loss “worse than the Super Bowl.” They’ve got some rebuilding/reimagining to do in L.A., but I’ll still take the pride of Marist High School (my ex-wife having forfeited that position) to lead that process.
Bryan Knowles: It’s official — the 49ers-Seahawks game in Week 17 has been flexed to Sunday Night Football. There were only three games between playoff teams in Week 17 (SF-SEA, PIT-BAL, and TEN-HOU), and you want the Titans and Steelers games to kick off simultaneously in order to prevent either team from having the knowledge advantage. So, 49ers-Seahawks was the only real possibility. The fact that it also happens to be the best game available is a happy coincidence.
Carolina Panthers 6 at Indianapolis Colts 38
Scott Spratt: Apparently Will Grier is the ninth rookie quarterback to start a game in the NFL this season, which the broadcast said is the most since 1970. Since that’s the merger year, I’m curious whether that stat means this is the most ever in the modern NFL or if there were more than nine in 1970 specifically. And if it’s the latter, wasn’t everyone technically a rookie that season?
Bryan Knowles: It’s the most ever in the modern NFL; there were five rookie starters in 1970 (Dennis Shaw, Terry Bradshaw, Mike Phipps, Rick Arrington and Dan Gault). If you included the AFL newbies, then yeah, that’d shatter the record, but the NFL agreed to include the AFL’s stats, which I presume includes years of service.
Makes me wonder if 1950 might have beaten it, with the three AAFC teams joining the league, the L.A. Dons merging with the L.A. Rams, and the various dispersal drafts, but that really is prehistory.
Scott Spratt: Meanwhile, the Colts forced a three-and-out and marched downfield on offense, capping their drive with a fourth-down Jacoby Brissett sneak for a touchdown. The Panthers defense is No. 32 in DVOA run defense. I’m not sure why I’m watching this game.
Scott Spratt: The dreaded penalty on a punt led to a second Panthers punt that Nyheim Hines promptly returned for a touchdown. Colts are up 14-0 with 7:41 left in the first. Yeah, this is going as expected.
Bryan Knowles: Man, the Panthers have fallen apart since Ron Rivera left, haven’t they? Perhaps Rivera wasn’t the problem.
Scott Spratt: Interim Panthers head coach Perry Fewell went for a fourth down in the red zone, so that’s exciting. Sadly, Will Grier took a blindside sack he never saw coming. Turnover on downs, Colts shutout still in effect.
An underrated part of Kyle Allen’s difficulties this year was that he’s second in the NFL in sacks despite not playing the first two games.
Scott Spratt: Christian McCaffrey made his 100th catch of the season. He set the running back record with 107 last year and seems likely to break that with another game and a half to play. Next up: Chris Johnson’s scrimmage yardage record.
Scott Spratt: Apparently McCaffrey didn’t even need Week 17 to get to 108 catches and break his own record for receptions by a running back. He has 14 catches and 111 receiving yards today, which along with 54 rushing yards puts him close to 200 total yards away from the scrimmage yards record.
Cincinnati Bengals 35 at Miami Dolphins 38 (OT)
Zach Binney: The Dolphins IDGAF season continues, with today’s first touchdown a one-handed catch by Christian Wilkins. That would be defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who was in at fullback a la Dontari Poe.
And because of that swinging gate touchdown earlier it’s not even close to our weirdest score of the year.
I legitimately love this no-pressure season and never want it to end.
Bryan Knowles: While I love a big-man touchdown as much as the next guy, I don’t know about this one by Christian Wilkins. This looks like a drop to me, though it was ruled a catch, fumble, and recovery for a touchdown on the field. At the very least, this doesn’t get the same style points as, say, the Dawkins touchdown from yesterday.
Big man touchdown in Miami. 1st round pick DT Christian Wilkins.pic.twitter.com/fL6LiVRW1L
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) 22 December 2019
Bryan Knowles: We had all circled this game as Miami’s most likely win. Yeah, they’ve won a few games since their terrible start, but this was always going to be the easiest game for the Fish Tank. And, indeed, Miami jumps out to a 14-0 lead, thanks to a big-man touchdown and a flea flicker so incredibly underthrown the Bengals defenders couldn’t track it. Quality football!
Scott Spratt: The Bengals go for a fourth-and-3, and Andy Dalton unloads deep for Tyler Boyd for a touchdown! That makes the score … oh, 28-12 with the Dolphins still way ahead. The Bengals entered the week with a 72.1% chance of winning the first pick. They’ve locked it up now.
Bryan Knowles: Bengals, what are you doing! They recover an onside kick, drive down for a touchdown, AND score the two-point conversion to tie the game! The No. 1 pick was in their grasp, and they’ve blown it!
Today has been more fodder for my idea to flip results between teams eliminated from the playoffs, because what the Bengals just did is the worst thing that could have possibly happened to them going into the offseason.
Aaron Schatz: Players don’t care about draft position. They want to win games.
Bryan Knowles: I don’t disagree, Aaron, but man oh man, the perverse incentives.
Rivers McCown: This is a beautiful game. On third down in overtime, the Dolphins hit Mike Gesicki for what should get them field position, but he drops it. On third-and-short for the Bengals, John Ross catches the ball short of the sticks, never turns upfield, and doesn’t get there. Then, Fitzpatrick is sacked on third down. We’re on possession two for the Bengals. Someone might win!
Bryan Knowles: And it’s over. As time runs out in overtime, Jason Sanders’ field goal splits the uprights.
The Bengals have officially locked up the No. 1 pick.
Rob Weintraub: That was almost enough to break me, but it winds up being OK. I’d have preferred the tie though.
Baltimore Ravens 31 at Cleveland Browns 15
Scott Spratt: Lamar Jackson’s throwaway sailed into the net that Justin Tucker uses to practice making field goals. What can’t he do?
Scott Spratt: A Marcus Peters defensive holding penalty just erased a spectacular, one-handed L.J. Fort interception. I would say that Baker Mayfield made a bad decision to try to throw that pass while being wrapped up for a sack, but it was on fourth down. The interception would actually have cost the Ravens about 20 yards if they hadn’t given up a new first down on penalty.
Bryan Knowles: If the Browns sweep the Ravens, I do not understand football. After picking up a first down on a hard count on fourth-and-1, and then a borderline pass interference in the end zone, Baker Mayfield loops the ball into Demetrius Harris in the end zone for the touchdown. They miss the extra point, mind you, but they still have a 6-0 lead.
Scott Spratt: I guess that’s one way to drive the ball on the Ravens defense. Baker Mayfield drew the Ravens offsides with a hard count on a fourth-and-1, and then the Browns drew a defensive pass interference penalty on a pass that Mayfield threw several feet out of bounds left of the end zone. John Harbaugh challenged that ruling looking for the uncatchable wave-off but lost, and Gene Steratore said that referees have not overturned any of the 12 pass interference penalties that were called on the field and subsequently challenged.
Scott Spratt: I was about to say how surprising it was to see Harbaugh punt from the Browns’ side of the field, but punter Sam Koch subsequently coffin-cornered the ball out of bounds at the Browns’ 3-yard line. I guess that works.
Scott Spratt: If you’re going to leave one player on the Ravens wide open, you probably shouldn’t make it Mark Andrews. The Ravens trailed more in the first half of this game than they had cumulatively over the last seven weeks, but now they’re up 7-6 with 1:18 left in the second quarter.
Bryan Knowles: I don’t think “quick-strike offense” when I think of the Ravens; it’s more death by a million paper cuts. While they’re certainly capable of the surprise score, it’s not the platonic ideal of the Jackson experience. However, getting the ball just after the two-minute warning, Jackson hits Ingram for 24 yards and then finds Mark Andrews all alone, lost in the secondary, for a 39-yard score. 7-6 lead for Baltimore. I suppose that’s the way to make up for being just 1-for-4 on third downs; just avoid third down altogether.
Scott Spratt: I think Lamar Jackson just blew his own mind right there. He was dead to rights for a sack that would have run out the clock in the second quarter. Instead, he squirmed away and threw with his body facing the complete wrong direction, and Mark Andrews secured it for his second touchdown in the last 69 seconds. Nice.
Bryan Knowles: After the Ravens touchdown, the Browns go three-and-out in just 16 seconds, which allows the Ravens enough time to march 75 yards in 45 seconds and get ANOTHER touchdown. A great, great throw by Jackson in intense pressure.
The Browns controlled this game for 28 minutes, then allowed two touchdowns in 1:09. 14-6 Ravens lead, and Cleveland should have just kneeled out the half.
Bryan Knowles: In fact, let me break this down a little more for the Browns. They had a third-and-1, up 6-0, with 2:05 left in the half. The Ravens were out of time-outs. There is no way, no WAY, you should end up down eight points in that scenario. Fail on the third down, punt, and have the Ravens score on you? You know, shit happens, the Ravens are really good, the Browns aren’t, eh. But to go three-and-out and waste NO time off the clock, and let the Ravens score AGAIN? Freddie Kitchens should not come out of the locker room for the second half.
Rivers McCown: The first Mark Andrews touchdown:
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) 22 December 2019
A lot of the color has already been provided here. I am pretty sure the Browns want to be a run-heavy offense, and I understand that, but six points was never going to win this game. They did have the one deep shot to Odell Beckham that Marcus Peters recovered on and broke up, but other than that, this offense is just trying to move the chains. It’s slow, it’s stagnant, and I don’t understand why there’s any clamor to keep Freddie Kitchens right now.
Derrik Klassen: What we saw on that last touchdown drive from Lamar Jackson to end the half highlighted my favorite part of his game: pocket movement. The way that Jackson can navigate the pocket with short, calculated bursts that don’t completely debase his throwing platform is incredible, to me. Being an athlete is one thing, but he displays such a ridiculous sense of when and where he needs to be moving to in order to best enable himself to throw. Not a bad throw to finish off the play either!
Bryan Knowles: Well, things have come entirely off the rails for the Browns now. The Ravens score again on their opening drive and are now up 21-6. Since the 1:50 mark in the second quarter, the Ravens have outgained the Browns 207 yards to -1. I think I’ll flip to another channel.
Bryan Knowles: Non-contact injury for Mark Ingram, who goes down clutching on his leg after a play fake. That’s your No. 2 running back in DVOA, No. 3 in DYAR. That’d be about as significant as losing a running back could be.
Jackson was a little gimpy after taking a shot, as well. Close out this game and get him some rest, Baltimore! AND as I’m writing this, Mark Andrews limps off the field…
Scott Spratt: Of course, the Ravens also have Gus Edwards at running back, who had 13.8% rushing DVOA last year and has 12.6% rushing DVOA this year. One of the craziest things about the Ravens is how much quality depth they have that they mostly haven’t even needed to use.
Rivers McCown: The Browns get the ball down to the goal line, hurry up and throw a quick slant, then run twice in jumbo personnel and get negative yards both times.
It’s impossible how bad Kitchens is at this.
Aaron Schatz: Some of the quality metrics on Ingram and Edwards is about the offensive scheme they are playing in, the line blocking for them, and the fact that having a mobile quarterback opens things up for running backs. DVOA is not rating the players on their own. I’m sure there are other backs who could put up pretty good stats in the Baltimore offense.
Bryan Knowles: And THEN, Baker Mayfield runs out of bounds on fourth down, rather than throwing the ball into the end zone! You gotta give it a chance, Baker.
But they’re bailed out by a facemask (the third penalty on Baltimore on fourth down today!) and score a touchdown on the next play. The Browns go for two down nine, which baffles Nantz and Romo. They don’t get it, so it’s still a two-score game.
New Orleans Saints 38 at Tennessee Titans 28
Scott Spratt: No Derrick Henry, no problem for the Titans! Ryan Tannehill threw a pass that tight end Jonnu Smith wound through traffic for a touchdown on their opening drive.
Aaron Schatz: 19-yard screen to Dion Lewis, then a 41-yard touchdown to Jonnu Smith, who pulled away when Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, who should have had the angle on him. That tight end’s got some jets! 7-0 Tennessee.
Scott Spratt: The Next Gen Stats page for fastest ballcarriers doesn’t have a filter for position, but the Titans broadcast last week indicated that Jonnu Smith exceeded 20mph twice in that game. Weirdly, neither was on a catch. One was on an interception return that he closed ground for a tackle, and the other was for a handoff that he took for 50-plus yards. But either way, Smith produced two of the five fastest plays by a tight end all season last week.
Aaron Schatz: Marcus Williams is not having a good game. Just missed tackles on Jonnu Smith and A.J. Brown on two plays. Brown scored on a 49-yard run. 14-0 Titans.
Scott Spratt: That long touchdown run won’t count to this respect, but A.J. Brown took over first place for rookie receiving yards last week.
How would you guys stack up Brown, Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Darius Slayton, Marquise Brown, Mecole Hardman, and any other prominent rookie receivers going forward? I feel like this year has less clarity of which rookies are going to be the guys in the future. Maybe because this class is super deep and promising.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, Andrew and I had a hard time picking three of ten for our All-Rookie team in this week’s Scramble (cheap plug). This is the best receiver class since 2014, at the very least. We had to go ten-deep in a table just to cover everybody worth considering!
Aaron Schatz: Titans coverage is phenomenal today, despite missing their top two cornerbacks to injury (Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson). Drew Brees is taking coverage sacks and making coverage throwaways.
Scott Spratt: Entering today, Drew Brees is averaging 333 yards and 2.8 touchdowns per game at home this year and 150 and 1.3 on the road.
Bryan Knowles: That’s why it’s so important for the Saints to earn home-field as much as possible in the playoffs. Brees’ home/road splits have been overblown for most of his career, but he’s really so much sharper in the dome as he has gotten older.
The Saints are eliminated from the No. 1 seed this week if they lose and Seattle wins (or Green Bay wins and a lot of other strength-of-victory things happen).
Aaron Schatz: Ryan Tannehill takes so many sacks. Just took his fourth in just the first half. But the Titans offense is moving the ball so much better than the Saints today. 7.1 net yards per play vs. 3.2 net yards per play so far with 2:34 left in the second quarter.
Aaron Schatz: And then the Saints get almost all of it back on one play. Brees finds Jared Cook wide open in the middle of the field, Cook breaks a tackle by cornerback LeShaun Sims, good block ahead of him by Alvin Kamara on Kevin Byard, and Cook saunters into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown to make it 14-10, Tennessee.
Dave Bernreuther: The Saints finally wake up a bit, with Jared Cook running into the middle of the field into recently vacated space and then outracing everyone down the sideline somehow. It’s speedy tight end day, apparently … although I highly doubt Jared Cook is quite in the same class as Jonnu Smith.
In other news, maybe wearing white uniforms from head to toe on a natural grass field wasn’t the world’s greatest idea.
Tom Gower: Titans up 14-10 at the half thanks to two first-quarter touchdowns. Despite their efficient offense under Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee hasn’t been putting up big-play totals because they’ve either been scoring quickly or haven’t been moving the ball. The longest of their seven possessions in the first 30 minutes had six plays. They’ve gone 3-and-out three times, 6-and-out twice, and have 70-plus-yard touchdown drives of three and five plays. Total feast or famine.
The banged-up Saints offensive line left their running game inept for the first 29:50. Prior to Alvin Kamara’s worthless (except maybe to your fantasy team) 14 yards to midfield at the end of the first half, he and Latavius Murray combined for six carries for 10 yards. A penalty-prone offensive unit has contributed to the struggles, putting them in long situations repeatedly. Drew Brees is still efficient enough to move the ball some, but they struggled to find plays in chunks until Jared Cook matched Jonnu Smith with a long play of his own that looked fairly similar — an over route behind the linebackers and in front of the defensive backs where they were able to head down the left sideline for a long catch-and-run.
Rivers McCown: This is my second game — neither quarterback can avoid getting sacked right now, with Brees playing without Andrus Peat or Larry Warford and Ryan Tannehill being … Ryan Tannehill. That’s one of his major weaknesses. Taylor Lewan got okey-doked by Carl Granderson on a key third down and I believe had the blown block on at least one of Tannehill’s sacks.
Every time I turn around the Saints are trying to come back from X-and-20 or X-and-15. Nine penalties for 61 yards, egads. Every score has been a big play.
Rivers McCown: The Saints come out and get their first explosive rushing play I can remember in some time as Kamara comes off the edge for a 40-yard touchdown. 17-14.
Bryan Knowles: Boy howdy, there’s nothing more exciting than a three-minute review of a touchdown, an overturn, and then an easy touchdown on the next play. A great use of everybody’s time.
The Saints definitely have woken up here in the second half, and now are sitting on a ten-point lead midway through the third.
Aaron Schatz: Now these offenses are flying up and down the field. Four of the five drives in the second half have gone for touchdowns, three of them now for New Orleans. Titans got a 23-yard gain with Taysom Hill being covered by linebacker Rashad Evans, then Jared Cook right up the seam into the end zone catches the ball for a touchdown despite good coverage by Kevin Byard. 31-21 New Orleans.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Vrabel just punted on fourth-and-3 from midfield down 10 even though New Orleans has scored on four straight drives (not counting an end-of-half kneeldown). Ugh.
Bryan Knowles: The Titans don’t need this game, per se, but it’s becoming bigger and bigger as the Steelers continue to flounder. It has been a heck of a game, though — back down to a three-point Saints lead on Tajae Sharpe’s second touchdown of the day.
Rivers McCown: Failed Saints fake punt that hits the receiver right in the facemask gives the ball to the Titans near midfield, down three with 4 minutes left.
Bryan Knowles: The Saints call a timeout, apparently to avoid a delay of game penalty. If you’re punting anyway, what’s the point…
… Oh wait, it’s a fake! It’s a direct snap to Taysom Hill, who drills a pass to Justin Hardee … but he drops it. Wow.
Scott Spratt: Oh man, Kalif Raymond just caught a deep pass but was concussed by a hit to the helmet. Naturally, he dropped the ball as he collapsed, but it looks like the refs are currently ruling it a fumble rather than an incompletion? Hopefully they change that upon review.
Scott Spratt: And the refs did not change it. Maybe the Titans wouldn’t have won anyway, but the Saints just got a major bad call in their favor.
Tom Gower: I thought it would have been very difficult to overturn it to a non-catch, and personally would have reversed it to a catch had it been called otherwise on the field. And you can’t add a defenseless receiver penalty call in replay, so that’s that.
Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure the bad call was the fumble — I think he had the catch and control, losing it when he got hit. I think, though, you could have called unnecessary roughness on the Saints with the shot to the head.
Either way, the Saints get the turnover and march down for what’s ruled a touchdown on the field, though it looks like Michael Thomas is short.
Aaron Schatz: And the Saints capitalize. A couple of 5-yard runs, and then a pass to Michael Thomas to set the all-time single-season receptions record that looks like a touchdown but gets reversed. That’s probably bad for the Titans because it means the Saints will be taking more time of the clock, and with first-and-goal from the 1, they probably score here.
Aaron Schatz: Saints score on second-and-goal. It’s a pass to Michael Thomas, of course. Why do you not just double Thomas all game long? You know where the Saints are going with the ball.
Tom Gower: Hmm, what to say to summarize the second half of this game? The Saints opened the second half with their second explosive play, as Alvin Kamara ripped off a 40-yard run to give them a lead they would never relinquish. But a lot more happened after that, as the Titans did their best to match the New Orleans offensive explosion that followed. That New Orleans offense was aided in its efforts by kickoff return man Deonte Harris, who gave them average starting field position of their own 40 on four returns before Tennessee finally decided it might be a good idea to kick away from him.
The play I’m sure I’ll hear the most about from Nashville quarters this week is the previously noted Kalif Raymond play, which went from the Titans with the ball in Saints territory down three had a penalty been called versus New Orleans with a short field to extend that lead, which they did to what proved to be the final 38-28 margin. A shorthanded Tennessee secondary did a number of things to try to shut down Michael Thomas, and he proved to be an equal opportunity defeater. Marshon Lattimore kept his eye on A.J. Brown for most of the game, with the result that Tannehill looked elsewhere almost every play until finally hitting Brown for 34-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Corey Davis had what felt like one of his more notable games, and Tajae Sharpe also stood out with a couple touchdowns. But ultimately the loss doesn’t mean much for Tennessee, and the focus can quickly shift to next week’s win-and-in game in Houston.
Pittsburgh Steelers 10 at New York Jets 16
Bryan Knowles: Duck Hodges, picking up where he left off last week, throws another ugly interception. Wonder if we’ll see Mason Rudolph today; the Steelers can’t be eliminated today but things ain’t going well over there.
Bryan Knowles: ANOTHER Duck Hodges interception, this time in the red zone. Mike Tomlin HAS to make a move, and fast. The Steelers are in the playoffs if they win out, but they don’t have enough of a cushion over Tennessee to keep messing around here. They’re down 10-0 early in the second.
Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, Mason Rudolph is back in at quarterback for the Steelers. Had to happen.
Bryan Knowles: Points! Points for the Steelers!
Duck Hodges was 7-for-9 for 53 yards and two interceptions. Mason Rudolph’s up to 7-for-10 for 75 yards and a field goal drive. I’m not entirely sure that’s a revelation for this Steelers’ offense, but at least they’re on the board, down 10-3 to the Jets in the last minute of the second quarter.
Bryan Knowles: Busted coverage lets Rudolph find Diontae Johnson for a 29-yard score, tying this one back up. Logic returning to the AFC North just before halftime.
Dave Bernreuther: That was a beautiful throw by Mason Rudolph. The kind of touch and placement that made me optimistic about him coming out of Oklahoma State even without a huge arm. This is the kind of game that it seems like the Steelers lose every year (like Oakland last year), so good for him for getting them back into it.
Carl Yedor: The third quarter of this one has been a real defensive slog. Three punts and a field goal to this point in the quarter. Pittsburgh at least starts its next drive with good field position, but the offense has been a real problem all season without Roethlisberger. James Conner went down with another injury today, to add to his laundry list of bumps and bruises this season, and Maurkice Pouncey just had to come off the field at least temporarily as well. JuJu Smith-Schuster is just now returning from a multi-week absence. Assuming Ben Roethlisberger comes back at full strength next year (which may or may not be a great assumption, given his age), this team should be in position for some serious injury-related positive regression on offense next season, though I doubt that they’ll reach their Antonio Brown-era offensive heights.
Bryan Knowles: In the past five minutes, the Steelers have lost Pouncey, Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward to injury … and now Mason Rudolph’s banged up as well. Duck Hodges may be coming back into the game.
This is not ideal for a team fighting for a playoff berth.
Bryan Knowles: On fourth-and-game, Duck Hodges … drops the snap. He does manage to pick it up and shoot it downfield, but it goes through JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands. The Steelers lose, and now the Titans are in control of their own fate, pending the outcome of their game against the Saints.
New York Giants 41 at Washington Redskins 35 (OT)
Scott Spratt: I’m guessing no one on staff was eager to watch this game, but it’s already 14-14 after one quarter. That’s crazy.
Bryan Knowles: Dwayne Haskins is down. He was high-lowed, and it looked like he had an ankle injury. He walked off the field, and took the cart into the locker room. His stats were sharp up until this point (12-for-15 for 133 yards and a pair of scores), but couple his injury with the Giants’ 14-point lead, and it looks like Washington has that No. 2 pick all sewn up. Chase Young, come on down!
Bryan Knowles: Nooooo. Washington scores a touchdown with 30 seconds left, and then … kicks the extra point to tie the game. A) no one wants overtime between two three-win teams. B) tying the game might cost you the No. 2 draft pick! This is the worst possible result for Washington. They almost get bailed out by a replay review, as Case Keenum is apparently fumbling as he dives over the line, but no, it’s ruled a touchdown.
Go for two, dang it! If you succeed, hey, you win the game. If you fail, hey, you get the No. 2 pick! Don’t subject us to overtime!
Andrew Potter: There are many things I don’t understand about replay in the NFL, but I really don’t understand how an NFL official can look at the replays we just got of the Case Keenum touchdown and not overturn it to a fumble short of the goal line.
Bryan Knowles: Daniel Jones wins one for Washington, finding Kaden Smith in the end zone in overtime to end this one. So much drama at the top of the draft in this early window!
Jacksonville Jaguars 12 at Atlanta Falcons 24
Aaron Schatz: I’m not watching this, but through 2.5 quarters the Jaguars have 45 passing yards, six of which are from their punter on a successful fake punt. The Falcons defensive resurgence continues! Thank goodness this isn’t an upset.
Detroit Lions 17 at Denver Broncos 27
Bryan Knowles: With the results of the early games in the books, I believe this is the first game this season with zero playoff implications whatsoever. It can’t impact any possible strength of victory or strength of schedule tiebreakers that could still come into play; it doesn’t flip anything. It doesn’t even affect the top of the draft order! It’s simply A Game That’s Occurring. Real “tree falls in a forest” stuff.
Bryan Knowles: Drew Lock and DaeSean Hamilton just hooked up for a touchdown to give the Broncos a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. This means this could be Detroit’s sixth blown fourth-quarter lead of the season.
Derrik Klassen: Feels a lot like Denver’s success down the stretch of the year is going to be attributed to Drew Lock, and I think that only sets the fan base up for disappointment. Not that Lock can’t be good (I liked him a decent amount coming out of Missouri), but they’ve not actually required very much of him, they just happen to keep winning games. Could get real crazy if Denver ends up beating Oakland next week, too — would make Lock 4-1 as the starter (well, assuming they don’t fumble this 27-17 lead to David freaking Blough). I’m guessing Denver’s front office rolls with him either way, but I’d be worried that this end-of-season win streak is going to get some people to buy into Lock making a massive Year 2 leap that he probably won’t make.
Arizona Cardinals 27 at Seattle Seahawks 13
Scott Spratt: I think the broadcast said that Kyler Murray was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Is that true? Shouldn’t Prescott, Ryan, Cousins, Wilson, Rodgers, and Brees at least be ahead of him in the NFC (in no particular order)? I can’t find the list of alternates, so I guess I don’t know how many quarterbacks make that list…
Scott Spratt: Haha, Kenyan Drake just broke free for an 80-yard touchdown and celebrated by pretending to open a bank vault and fill a bag of cash. Drake is an unrestricted free agent after this season, so he likely will be filling bags of cash with a new contract after running for 4.8 yards per carry and now six touchdowns in seven games with the Cardinals so far.
Carl Yedor: Seahawks strike first to take a 7-0 lead on a Russell Wilson pass to fullback Nick Bellore. The defense forced a three-and-out on Arizona’s opening drive despite not having Jadeveon Clowney or Shaquill Griffin, who have been two of Seattle’s best defensive players this season. The defense does not force a three-and-out on the subsequent drive, as Kenyan Drake scores an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of Arizona’s response drive to tie things up at 7.
This particular matchup (home vs. Arizona) has been a tricky one for Seattle since the start of the Bruce Arians era in 2013. Although the Seahawks normally entered the game favored, the Cardinals pulled out narrow wins in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. The only year during Arians’ tenure that Seattle won was in 2014, when Arizona was forced to turn to Drew Stanton at quarterback. Last year, against a truly dreadful Cardinals team coached by Steve Wilks, Seattle needed a Sebastian Janikowski field goal as time expired to escape with a three-point win. Gotta keep the tradition alive!
Aaron Schatz: Pete Carroll trying a 52-yard field goal instead of going for a fourth-and-1 that’s more likely to convert than the field goal try. Drink.
Aaron Schatz: Oh dear god, he took a delay of game and punted the ball.
Scott Spratt: Slash taking an intentional delay of game to punt. Crushed it, Pete.
Bryan Knowles: Gotta take the delay of game to prevent the Punt Surrender Index from bashing you. It’s just four-dimensional chess from Carroll.
Carl Yedor: I don’t know what’s worse here, the fact that Carroll went FG –> intentional delay of game –> punt there or that I am completely unsurprised by it. Looked like C.J. Prosise missed a blocking assignment on the third-down play after Jacob Hollister chipped him before releasing into a route, which led to Wilson having to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to.
Carl Yedor: Maybe Carroll’s overly conservative fourth-down decision-making is just one big Jedi mind trick to get opposing coaches to be more conservative too. Arizona had a fourth-and-1 at about midfield and chose to punt over going for it when their strength is definitely their offense. Only really hurts Arizona from a field position perspective here because the Seahawks go three-and-out immediately. Jamarco Jones was a fifth-round pick in 2018 as a left tackle with major questions about his athletic ability, and Chandler Jones has been taking advantage of that today while Jones is filling in for the injured Duane Brown out there.
Carl Yedor: A little bit of Kyler Murray magic for Arizona. First, he evades a sack and scrambles for a first down. Next, Arizona runs a throwback trick play, giving Pharoh Cooper the ball on a toss before getting it back to Murray, who runs for 17. And after a run to Kenyan Drake, Murray scrambles to his left, draws the defender to him, and then flips the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, who takes it in for the score. 14-7 Arizona.
Carl Yedor: Coverage bust on fourth-and-2 by rookie nickel corner Ugo Amadi lets Arizona convert on fourth down inside of two minutes from the Seattle 47. Seahawks looked to be in man coverage, and Amadi left Pharoh Cooper to try to cover a route at the sticks, leaving Cooper open in the intermediate area of the field. Arizona then takes advantage and kicks a field goal with seconds to go in the first half. Seattle hasn’t been able to get anything going since they punted on that fourth-and-1. Losing this game could potentially cost Seattle a bye if they win the division at 12-4 with a win against the 49ers next week (assuming Green Bay and New Orleans hold serve), but if they lose this one, they’re probably losing to San Francisco too. In any obvious passing situation, Wilson has been under pressure immediately, and if that’s the case against the Cardinals, that will definitely be a problem next week too.
On a side note, they ran a game break to show the Cowboys field goal prior to the half, and the broadcasters of this one talked about the need to get Ezekiel Elliott his touches. The more things change, the more things stay the same…
Carl Yedor: Seahawks start to put together some semblance of a drive, but after converting a completion to David Moore that would have converted a third-and-long, Moore fumbles the ball trying to fight for yards after the catch. Arizona recovers and immediately drives down the field for a field goal to extend the lead to 20-7. Both Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise are out for Seattle, but the bigger problem today is the offensive line. If Seattle doesn’t score here, the game is not out of reach just yet, but the margin of error is quite slim from here on out.
Bryan Knowles: Uh-oh. Kyler Murray is out with a hamstring injury, so it’s down to Brett Hundley to hold the Cardinals’ lead…
Carl Yedor: Arizona misses out on a chance to really tighten the screws as they get a field goal blocked, leading to a lengthy return for backup safety Marquise Blair that sets up Seattle in the red zone. But Seattle can’t do anything with it, as they run the ball on both first down and third-and-3 for losses of 3 each time with Travis Homer, who was fourth on the depth chart a month ago but has been forced into action thanks to the injury to Rashaad Penny against the Rams and the injuries to Carson and Prosise today. Neither of the losses were really Homer’s fault, as he was swarmed in the backfield on both plays. Seattle is forced to settle for three at the start of the fourth quarter and will kick off down 20-10. Arizona has been controlling the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game and really putting their mark on this one.
Aaron Schatz: They weren’t forced to settle for three! They could have tried a touchdown on fourth-and-6. They turned a two-score game into a two-score game.
Bryan Knowles: It’s going to be a real battle between Pete Carroll and Jason Garrett for the Foxie Award for Conservatism this week. Really would love to see them play each other again in the wild-card round.
Carl Yedor: Aaron makes a good point, though I think I’ve just internalized the fact that Carroll will not be going for it in anything other than the very most desperate situations.
Carl Yedor: Impressive mix of run plays on Arizona’s drive here. Kliff Kingsbury going into his bag of tricks with a wide variety of different runs. A couple Brett Hundley scrambles picked up key first downs before Drake punched it in for the score. At 27-13 with only four minutes left, Arizona looks poised to take this one.
Dallas Cowboys 9 at Philadelphia Eagles 17
Aaron Schatz: Dallas Goedert just caught a touchdown pass to make it 10-0 Philly. Covering tight ends is a weakness of the Cowboys and Goedert had the only touchdown catch in the first meeting between these teams.
Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a win today, but they have come out as listless as possible early in this one. They sandwiched a three-and-out between a pair of long Philadelphia drives, with Miles Sanders making the big play with a catch-and-run on the touchdown drive. Eagles jump out to a 10-0 lead, at home.
Aaron Schatz: We’ll go into halftime at 10-6 Eagles. I’m so frustrated with the Cowboys offense. They should be clicking and moving the ball easily against this mediocre Philadelphia defense, but there’s nothing. Michael Gallup has four catches for 88 yards and nobody else has much. Amari Cooper had an awful drop on a third-down pass and has only one catch. Zeke Elliott has five carries for 9 yards, big whup. Dallas is 1-for-6 on third downs. The Elliott go-nowhere runs keep leaving them in third-and-10, third-and-12, etc.
As for the Eagles, they’re running a lot of screen passes and a lot of passes to Dallas Goedert. Dallas is 29th in DVOA against tight ends (subscription required) and Zach Ertz hurt his ribs early in the game so it has been a lot of Goedert: 7-of-9, 60 yards, a touchdown at halftime. Otherwise the Eagles don’t have a lot of receivers. I mean, former University of Houston quarterback and AAF receiver Greg Ward is probably their No. 1 option at this point.
Bryan Knowles: Perhaps fitting the state of the division, this game has kind of been a sloppy disaster. But the Eagles are at least sustaining offense — they have the only three drives this game that have gone 50 yards or more, resulting in all 17 points. The most recent drive was sparked by Greg Ward, one of their last remaining receiver-like substances, streaking down the sidelines for 38 yards, eventually setting up the Miles Sanders score. Eagles have a 17-6 lead, and the Cowboys are in trouble.
Aaron Schatz: Dallas just punted the ball away on fourth-and-1, down 11 in the fourth quarter. They were on their own 33, though a false start (in punt formation) brought them back to the 28. They passed the ball on third-and-1. The Cowboys constantly pass when they should run and run when they should pass and punt when they should run or pass.
Bryan Knowles: The answer was no, they were not going to overturn it. Philadelphia runs out the clock, and now the only thing stopping them from winning the East is a Week 17 game against the Giants. Holy cow, Dallas, what a no-show.
Dave Bernreuther: That drop by Gallup was a killer. Prescott had missed badly on the previous play but that one hit him right in the hands. I think it would’ve had to be a bit more perfectly thrown upfield to go for six, but it was certainly a good throw and should’ve set them up nicely.
Garrett seemed to be playing to try to tie with no time left. Which isn’t really a bad idea, but after exhausting their timeouts to get the Eagles to third-and-2, I bet they’re now wishing they had run some more before the two-minute warning.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, Cooper was on the bench because the Cowboys wanted to save all their timeouts in case they didn’t convert on fourth down? That’s the only thing that makes sense, and it doesn’t make sense because isn’t having Cooper on the field for the most important play of the game worth more than the chance that you can score if you get the ball back with 1:00 left and no timeouts?
Bryan Knowles: With the Titans and Steelers losses today, the Raiders are still alive for the final playoff slot. They’re sort of the de facto home team today in Los Angeles; the Chargers were actually booed as they came onto the field as the old L.A. Raiders fans have taken over the stadium. They opened the game with one good drive, and since then it’s been a … I’ll be kind and say “defensive struggle.” The drive chart in this one goes punt, Raiders TD, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, Chargers TD. The game is technically important, and definitely boring. 7-7 with 1:49 left in the second.
Bryan Knowles: Nice two-minute drill from Oakland, driving 75 yards and draining all of the clock before scoring the go-ahead touchdown. The big play was a 20-yard gain by Tyrell Williams which brought the Raiders to midfield and gave them the green light to really go for it, but it was mostly a lot of short, accurate passes; smart clock and timeout usage; and generally dissecting holes in the Chargers’ coverage. That’s what Derek Carr is really good at, and he capped it off with a run into the end zone (this time getting over the line without fumbling, unlike multiple times earlier this year). The Raiders have a 14-7 lead at the half as they try to remain alive.
They need to win, have both the Steelers and Titans lose, have the Colts beat the Jaguars (to take the Titans out of the 8-8 tie) and then get one of the following to beat the Steelers on Strength of Victory: Bears d. Chiefs, Bears d. Vikings, Patriots d. Dolphins, Lions d. Packers, or Chargers d. Chiefs.
Bryan Knowles: Of course Patrick Mahomes would convert third down-and-18. I’m not sure there’s a player in the league I’d pick more in a third-and-impossible situation than Mahomes. The Chiefs take their first drive 81 yards for a touchdown, and face very little opposition.
Aaron Schatz: Halftime, feels like the Chiefs are just toying with the Bears. Chicago wastes its time in the last minute of the half dumping off to running backs while the Chiefs have spent the half getting chunk gains to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Khalil Mack will beat Mitchell Schwartz and Patrick Mahomes is nonchalantly like, whatever dude, I’ll just dump this off to a receiver for 10 yards, yawn.
Rivers McCown: The Bears finally collect themselves enough to drive downfield, mostly with David Montgomery runs, but then fall apart on first-and-goal from the 5, go for it ,and a lifeless fade to Allen Robinson is easily defended.