September 25, 2021

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Audibles at the Line: Week 6

45 min read
Audibles at the Line: Week 6

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.

Carolina Panthers 37 ‘at’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 (London)

Scott Spratt: Keep £ing, gentlemen.

Ron’s New Shirt

And Jameis Winston’s first pass of the game is intercepted by James Bradberry. That pick was forced by Luke Kuechly’s positioning; he had shaded toward Mike Evans, which prompted Winston to throw to the outside shoulder, where Bradberry could jump it.

Amazing play by Jameis Wiinston to gain 17 yards on the first play of the Bucs’ third possession. Ronald Jones completely whiffs on a block of blitzing safety Eric Reid, but Winston escapes and throws while running to the left and hits Chris Godwin. This was Jones’ first series of the day, and seeing that play, I’m curious if his pass protection is keeping his playing time in check. As a runner, he has been much better than Peyton Barber with 13.8% DVOA compared to -6.3%.

Bryan Knowles: I don’t think it’s his pass blocking; if anything, Jones has looked a little better than Barber in protection in the Bucs games I’ve watched so far, though that might be highlight bias. I think it’s more that the Bucs are trying to keep things a 50/50 split at the moment, despite Jones really outplaying Barber. Keeping both guys fresh isn’t a bad idea in general, but I think we’re at the point where Jones should be the main guy.

Really impressive drive for Carolina, going basically from the 1-inch line into the end zone. After looking shaky on the Panthers’ first two drives, Kyle Allen hit some nice connections, including back-to-back deep shots to Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore to get the Panthers into scoring range. It took them four cracks from inside the ten, and I’m still not 100% sure that McCaffrey got across on fourth-and-inches, but hey, 10-0 Panthers after one.

According to Ian Rapoport, the Panthers might stick with Allen even after Newton gets healthy, as long as the Panthers keep winning. I can’t get behind that; a healthy Newton is far, far more dangerous a weapon than Allen, and I honestly don’t think Allen’s arm has looked that much better than even banged-up can’t-move Newton this year, DVOA difference or no DVOA difference. The one caveat there is that we don’t know when/if we’ll ever see “healthy” Cam Newton again, but I really don’t think Allen has been such a revelation that the job should be his until further notice.

Scott Spratt: That’s Ray-Ray McCloud’s third fumble on a return so far this season for the Panthers. And it doesn’t take long for the Bucs to take advantage with a Ronald Jones touchdown.

Bryan Knowles: Nice play by O.J. Howard to set up the touchdown, too, as apparently he can catch more than foul balls. Perhaps Tampa Bay should throw to him a little more often!

Scott Spratt: Bryan, your thoughts about Newton and Allen are very interesting. Newton has a reputation as an inaccurate passer that is somewhat built on a team strategy for most of his career to throw deep passes and to employ physical receivers who struggled to separate and get open. Newton completed 68% of his passes in 2018 when Norv Turner pivoted to a quick-strike offense. But even at his best, Newton makes more off-target throws and bad decisions than other great quarterbacks. Allen definitely lowers the team’s ceiling, but he would probably raise the floor. Does the other Panthers roster talent make that a compelling trade-off? I tend to agree with you that the answer is no, but I recognize that I can’t think about Newton rationally, having loved watching him for his entire career. I think I do understand why it’s being discussed.

Andrew Potter: If they did stick with Allen, I would expect it to be a very short-lived tenure similar to Tampa Bay sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick for half a week last year. At the first sign of trouble, Cam would be back in there.

Scott Spratt: So are you guys not impressed by Allen? I feel like he’s both accurate and a good decision-maker. Seven passing touchdowns against zero interceptions to start his career, 66% completion rate. My major concern is his lack of awareness of pressure.

Bryan Knowles: You’d think that, Andrew, though the NFL Network guys on the pregame show were saying that they’d expect Newton to be on another team next year, so we’re in full hype mode for Allen, apparently, and I don’t see it. Yeah, if Newton can’t run — and he absolutely could not to begin this season, highlighted by the Panthers’ refusal to sneak him at the goal line thanks to his injured feet — he’s not a top-tier quarterback. At that point, I think you can make the higher floor argument; Newton’s arm alone is not enough, so go with Allen and let the rest of the playmakers make plays. There’s an argument to sitting Newton for the rest of the year to make sure he gets as healthy as possible, but as soon as he has two healthy feet, he needs to be in there for Carolina. I have not been overly impressed by Allen to this point in time — not that he doesn’t have value, as we’ve seen plenty of backups forced into action already this year who have no business under center, but I don’t see him as a starter at the moment, at the very least.

Andrew Potter: “No interceptions” is a much less impressive stat when you consider that he has fumbled six times in only three starts this season, losing four.

I like Kyle Allen just fine as a backup quarterback. I think his success as a starter speaks more to the talent around him than it does his own ability; I was very high on the Panthers starting talent this year.

Scott Spratt: And again, I’m a Panthers fan and may not be impartial here, but I absolutely think Allen is a starter-caliber quarterback. His passing success has come with some moderate aggressiveness with a 7.8-yard average depth of throw this season, as opposed to some guys like Teddy Bridgewater who won’t go downfield (5.9-yard aDOT) but can look good based on their skill talent.

Bryan Knowles: You gotta complete those downfield passes though; Allen’s average depth of completion is just 5.1 yards downfield — he has the 19th-shortest aDOT, but the 10th-shortest depth of completion. You’re right that he has been more aggressive than Bridgewater, and that’s definitely to his credit, but his success on those aggressive plays hasn’t been overwhelming, if that makes sense?

Also, a small hamster would probably be more aggressive under center than Bridgewater has been this year, but that is neither here nor there.

Carl Yedor: I personally would take healthy Newton over Allen in a vacuum, but I think another valid question here moving forward is whether rookie-deal Allen is a better asset than market-value-deal Cam. The Rams came up a lot when talking about electing to go with a hypothetical cheaper option on a rookie deal instead of paying Goff and chose Goff. I’m not sure what Newton’s cap hit is off the top of my head, but if it’s a lot, maybe that’s part of the impetus for Carolina moving on.

Bryan Knowles: Cam will count $21.1 million against the cap next year with only $2 million in dead cap if they release him (or, more likely, trade him), so it’s an option that definitely on the table. It is just the 13th-highest quarterback cap hit next season, so it’s not crazy money (Alex Smith currently counts more against the cap than Cam will!), but with Kyle Allen being an exclusive rights free-agent, there’s savings to be had. I don’t think I could justify it other than medical reasons, but those reasons might exist.

Scott Spratt: This is from last year against the second-team Saints that had already clinched, but check out this cut-up of Allen’s best throws from his first start in Week 17. I see Allen anticipating and throwing accurately even 10-plus yards down the field. And I’ve seen that this year, as well.

Scott Spratt: Panthers pass-rusher Bruce Irvin forces a second Jameis Winston interception, hitting his elbow during a throw and sending the pass several yards past his intended receiver. The Bucs are really struggling to protect Winston today.

Also, wow, that Christian McCaffrey 25-yard touchdown reception was absurd. He dodged three Bucs who should have made the tackle.

Bryan Knowles: Yeah, CMC is amazing. I’m not buying into the MVP hype that was getting kicked up after last week, but I think he may be your front-runner for offensive player of the year at the moment.

Scott Spratt: I was going to say, how did the Panthers not recover that Winston fumble in the red zone? But karma clearly agreed, because the Panthers strip-sacked him again on the next play and recovered that one.

Andrew Potter: That second sack was absurdly terrible. Just a flat refusal to accept the play wasn’t there and move on.

Bryan Knowles: But who cares about quarterbacks? Fair catch kick! Fair catch kick! I love these weird, vestigial rules.

“You think the Brits are confused?” Mooch asks on the telecast.

“Steve, the AMERICANS are confused!” Eisen responds.

Unfortunately, it goes wide right, but man, I love that stuff.

Scott Spratt: Can Joey Slye hit from 70-plus yards???

Andrew Potter: I so badly want Justin Tucker to get a shot at one of those.

Aaron Schatz: I believe it’s actually only 60 yards. There’s no hike of the ball so the 8 yards you need to be behind field goal rush is missing. The ball was on the 50, plus 10 yards for the goal posts behind the goal line makes 60 yards.

Scott Spratt: By the by, Slye really can kick it 70 yards. He’s just not always super accurate.

Bryan Knowles: Might as well link the YouTube compilation of fair catch kicks. There have only been five in the 21st century, and no one has made one since the ’70s.

Carl Yedor: Last fair catch kick I remember seeing was Jim Harbaugh having Phil Dawson try one in 2013.

Bryan Knowles: That was, indeed, the last one. It shouldn’t be, though! There have been seven punts since 2014 where the punting team was inside their own 20, with 12 seconds or less in the second quarter. At least a couple of those seem like potential candidates for the fair catch kick, though full credit to Bill Belichick for knowing the rule — he had Ryan Allen kick the ball out of bounds in that situation against the Bills in 2016. You gotta actually make a fair catch to do a fair catch kick, after all.

What I want to know about is the 1933 game where the Giants opted to a do a 30-yard fair catch kick in the third quarter. Old-timey football is weird.

Rivers McCown: To weigh in on the issue of our day, I was impressed by Allen in a vacuum — even when fumbling in most of my view of him in Week 4 — but I think a healthy and right Newton would absolutely outperform him in this offense.

The relevant questions are:

  • As Carl noted, rookie contract versus Newton’s deal. You don’t really see the Panthers being big spenders regardless. Is that changing?
  • Is Newton ever going to be right again? That’s one I’m not sure we have the relevant medical records to tell.

Scott Spratt: Steve Smith suggests the Bucs should establish the run in the second half. I know you love to hear that, Aaron.

That D.J. Moore end-around gives me an opportunity to say how impressed I’ve been with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He has really adapted to some unusual Panthers rosters.

Bryan Knowles: Jameis Winston is not the worst starting quarterback in the league, but he has to be the most frustrating for his fans. Yet another turnover, the Panthers cash in, it’s 27-7, and I’m going to take a nap for an hour before the noon slate of games. Yikes, Jameis.

Scott Spratt: Do any of you guys know if it’s really harder to field punts from left-footed punters? The Bucs’ Bobo Wilson has fumbled the last two, and that’s what the announcers are saying.

Tom Gower: The ball actually does fall with a different spin off the foot of a lefty punter, so it can be a challenge for players used to tracking the ball of a righty punter.

Aaron Schatz: I’ve never actually done a study on this but we’ve got all the data if you want to look at the percentage of muffed on punts from left-footed vs. right-footed punters over the last few years…

Rivers McCown: Bill Belichick on left-footed punters:

Tom Gower: I don’t know how the stats come out, but the book Football Physics by Timothy Gay has a section on the actual physical mechanics of how they fall differently.

Belichick, his classmate at Andover, did the introduction to Gay’s book.

Scott Spratt: OK, hear me out. If the Panthers want to keep Allen at quarterback, what if Cam Newton changes positions to linebacker? That would be a real quarterback of the defense.

Aaron Schatz: You know, I don’t think the Tampa Bay defense has been as bad as it looks at first glance today. Those five turnovers are putting the defense in horrible field position. Carolina has scoring drives of -2, 8, 36, and 39 yards today.

Houston Texans 31 at Kansas City Chiefs 24

Scott Spratt: Establish the Run update: Smith and Willie McGinest also recommend that the Texans and Chiefs both establish the run against each other. That would be sad times for people who like to watch Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes throw passes.

Aaron Schatz: Incredible play in Kansas City. Houston jumps offside so Kansas City has a free play. Mahomes launches it all the way downfield, because why not. There are two Houston defenders right there, Justin Reid jumps and appears to have an interception, but Tyreek Hill somehow jumps higher and takes the ball away from him, comes down, then pushes the last 2 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

Scott Spratt: Looks like Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill are back in rhythm after Hill missed a few games. They connect for a 46-yard touchdown on a free play that Mahomes just uncorked downfield.

Aaron Schatz: Mahomes’ ankle looks fine today. He’s plenty mobile outside the pocket. He needs to be because Houston is definitely getting pressure on him today. Not like it matters when Mahomes can throw it off his back foot with two guys in his face and still find Travis Kelce for 18 yards. Also, when you’re getting pressure, you allow the offense to run screens against you, like the Chiefs just did for an 18-yard touchdown by Damien Williams. 17-3 Chiefs.

Halftime in Kansas City, and it’s 23-17 Texans. Bernardrick McKinney has had a big game. First, he had a hit on Mahomes after a pass that appeared to aggravate Mahomes’ ankle injury. Mahomes is not moving as well since that play. Then, McKinney recovered a strip-sack after rookie defensive end Charles Omenihu grabbed Mahomes’ arm and the ball got loose. That gave Houston the ball on the 3 and Deshaun Watson scrambled it in for the go-ahead touchdown.

Kansas City is losing despite having nearly three more yards per play (8.0 to 5.1) and the same number of turnovers.

Another fairly egregious pass interference not called, with a Houston defender mugging Travis Kelce. Challenged, and not overturned. They’re never going to overturn one of these. What a waste of time.

Andrew Potter: Do you get the impression that the only effect this has had is to make referees more reluctant to call DPI in the first place? Do we have numbers on that?

Aaron Schatz: Accepted DPI through Week 5:

  • 2018: 68
  • 2019: 69 (Nice!)

So no difference, really.

Houston had fourth-and-3 on the Kansas City 27 and decided to go for it to ice the game rather than bringing in Kai’mi Fairbairn to try a 45-yard field goal. Fairbairn has had a tough day with a missed field goal and a missed extra point. Deshaun Watson finds DeAndre Hopkins over the middle and that’s game.

Very strange numbers on this game. Kansas City gained more yards per play (6.6 to 5.7) and Houston had more turnovers (three to two) yet the Texans end up with far more net yardage (472 to 309) because they ran 83 plays to just 47 for Kansas City. Only two punts in the game, both by Kansas City. Twenty-one total penalties in this game, but they ended up fairly even with 10 by Houston and 11 by Kansas City.

Mahomes somehow had only 41 passing yards in the second half. Kansas City only had three drives in the second half. Three! One was a 64-yard touchdown drive, then two three-and-outs. It didn’t look like Houston had particularly great pressure suddenly in the second half. That Omenihu strip-sack from the first half was the only Houston sack all day. And the coverage didn’t look particularly better. Just … Kansas City never had the ball. Kansas City’s last drive of the game was the worst. Four-yard loss on a pass to McCoy, then a 1-yard run by McCoy, then Mahomes throws it to Blake Bell of all people, the backup tight end and former Oklahoma quarterback, incomplete. Kansas City punts with 5:12 left and never gets the ball back. Their defense just couldn’t stop Houston, on the ground or in the air.

Rivers McCown: Aaron summed this game up real well but let me just add that I’ve always defended Bill O’Brien and always believed he was a good head coach and I’m definitely not just saying that now that he has actually stopped punting and created an amazing run game out of Watson, Carlos Hyde, Keke Coutee, and various RPO/PA concepts.

Watson has not been sacked since Week 4.

Cincinnati Bengals 17 at Baltimore Ravens 23

Bryan Knowles: Cincinnati hadn’t scored on any of their opening drives this year. So they cut out the middle man, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown — just the second kick return for a touchdown this year. Good!

That may be the high point for the Bengals today, though — Lamar Jackson is going to gash them all day and all night. He’s already up to 57 rushing yards and a touchdown today, as it’s a 7-7 game early.

Scott Spratt: When leaping a defender goes wrong: Mark Andrews tries to go over a defender, but the tackle pushes his own knee up into the ball, jarring it loose. Bengals recover, still down 10 points but with 1:20 try to get points before halftime.

Bryan Knowles: “The analytics guys will tell you to kick the field goal.” So sayeth the announcers. You know us analytics guys, always asking teams, and especially big underdogs, to kick the field goal inside the 5-yard line.

(The Bengals do in fact kick the field goal, and it’s a 17-10 Baltimore game.)

Aaron Schatz: We should point out this was on fourth-and-goal from the 4.

Bryan Knowles: Lamar Jackson update at the half: nine carries for 111 yards and a touchdown, 14-for-20 for 168 yards. To be fair, about 30 of those rushing yards were empty calories; they came on the last play of the first half, with Jackson scrambling into field goal range but getting out of bounds just a hair too late to stop the clock. As a result, it’s 17-10 Ravens. If it wasn’t for the Mark Andrews jump-vault-fumble (stop doing that, guys; it doesn’t work anymore), Cincinnati would have basically had nothing since the opening kickoff. Andy Dalton has looked OK, if not spectacular — his interception wasn’t great, but he’s hanging in there. They can’t get anything going on the ground, however; they’ve averaging 1.3 yards per carry. That’s putting all the pressure on Dalton to deliver, and he really can’t be counted on to do that at this point.

Scott Spratt: Lamar Jackson is 19 yards shy of the single-game rushing record for a quarterback. Two QB-games in front of him … both Michael Vick haha.

Seattle Seahawks 32 at Cleveland Browns 28

Scott Spratt: The Browns go for a fourth-and-7, and instead of giving a draw hand-off to Nick Chubb, they throw it! Great conversion.

Aaron Schatz: Should point out they were in “No Man’s Land” on the Seattle 38. It’s really good to see coaches going for it in those situations where the punt likely won’t get you much yardage compared to failing to convert, and the field goal is really tough if you don’t have Justin Tucker on your roster.

Bryan Knowles: These defenses are aware that quarterbacks can run, right? After Russell Wilson’s Red Sea-parting touchdown, Baker Mayfield responds by running up the middle for a 10-yard score of his own on a play where no defender was even within 5 yards of him. Spy, guys!

Full credit to the Browns for going up-tempo; Seattle has struggled against that to this point in the season, and their defense is a little bit on their heels so far today, too.

Seattle then gets fourth-and-9 from Cleveland 39. Basically the exact same situation. They punted, fair catch at the 7.

The punt-and-play-field-position game doesn’t really work when your opponents march right down the field. After that punt inside the Browns 40, the Seahawks had Cleveland pinned deep. So what happened next? Nine-yard pass to Beckham to get out of the shadow of the end zone, 52-yard Chubb run, 31-yard Seals-Jones touchdown. 20-6 Browns, and the Seahawks might have to actually start letting their quarterback play football now.


Vince Verhei: Despite the swirling winds, we’ve got a quarterback duel here, as Mayfield and Wilson are a combined 12-of-16 for 158 in the first quarter — and as I type that, Mayfield hits Ricky Seals-Jones for a long touchdown and a 20-6 lead on the first play of the second. (Both teams have missed PATs — that might be the wind.) Seahawks giving up all sorts of big plays — that 31-yard touchdown, a 27-yard catch by Jarvis Landry on the fourth-down conversion, a 50-plus-yard Nick Chubb run, and a big kickoff return to start the game and set up Cleveland’s opening score. Seahawks scored easily on their first drive, but punted on the second after a sack. They are missing two starting linemen today, including Duane Brown, which is bad news against Myles Garrett and company.

Bryan Knowles: Wait, wait, wait, the Seahawks turned a red zone blocked punt into a 20-yard field goal? They had fourth-and-goal on the 2 and they kicked the dang thing? Oh, Pete Carroll, come on. The Seahawks are the one team in the NFC West who are performing below their talent level because of coaching.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks drive for a field goal, but it comes at a heavy price. Will Dissly falls down trying a to catch a pass in the end zone, and he stays down. It’s diagnosed as an Achilles injury, which is never good news, and he’s out for the day, at least.

Seahawks defense force a three-and-out when Odell Beckham drops a pass (that’s two for him today) and block the ensuing punt to get great field position. They work to a fourth-and-goal from the 2 … and kick the field goal. Weak, weak, weak, weak, weak. Browns still lead 20-12.

Scott Spratt: Oh no, I’m seeing Will Dissly suffered a non-contact Achilles injury. This is after missing most of his rookie season with a torn patella tendon. I hope it’s not what it sounds like.

Vince Verhei: Odell Beckham makes a spectacular diving catch down the sideline where his elbow comes down in bounds but his face is out. The play is challenged, and the call stands. It doesn’t matter, though, because Shaquill Griffin breaks up a pass to Jarvis Landry in the end zone, and Tedric Thompson intercepts it, running it out to the 12.

Can Russell Wilson drive 88 yards in less than 90 seconds with only one timeout? Of course he can! He’s Russell Wilson! It takes eight plays — seven passes and one scramble for a first down — and Wilson finishes to Jaron Brown in the corner of the end zone for the score. Seahawks miss on the two-point conversion and still trail 20-18. They actually scored so quickly that the Browns had time to move into position for a Hail Mary, but that fell incomplete.

Here’s a fun stat: At halftime, Wilson has gone 13-of-20 for 205 yards with a touchdown and no picks … and as a result, his NFL passer rating this season has gone DOWN.

Seahawks receive the kickoff to open the second half, which reminds me of something I forgot to talk about earlier. Daryl Johnston was talking about how important it was for Cleveland to manage the clock and get points at the end of the half, because they would be kicking off in the third quarter. I hear this kind of conversation all the time, and I’ve never understood what one has to do with the other. At the end of the half, you should be trying to maximize the points you can score while preventing your opponents from scoring. That’s true whether you’re kicking off in the second half, and it’s true if you’re receiving. So why even bring the kickoff up?

Bryan Knowles: Seattle is still down 20-18, but they just got the third turnover of the game — that’s what’s keeping them in the lead. In addition, Baker Mayfield is headed to the locker room; he was grabbing his side and left with medical personnel. Garrett Gilbert is the backup. It may be Gilbert’s game from here on out.

Vince Verhei: Mayfield scrambles for a third-down conversion but takes a big hit. He stays in the game until Nick Chubb fumbles the ball away on a screen pass just past midfield. (Great play by Ziggy Ansah to punch the ball out and recover it.) He was clearly in pain, however, clutching his side and limping, and after that fumble he was taken to the locker room. Looks like Garrett Gilbert will be coming in.

Or not, as Mayfield just jogged back onto the sideline as Seattle entered the red zone. Unfortunately for Cleveland, on third-and-goal Wilson scrambled in the pocket and found Brown in the middle of the field for a go-ahead touchdown. Jason Myers doinks the extra point off the upright and in, and Seattle leads 25-20.

Indeed, Mayfield has taken the field following Seattle’s touchdown.

Bryan Knowles: The Seahawks pick up a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and keep their lead … except that someone was too slow getting off the field! So we go again.

The Browns score on fourth-and-goal from the 1, to take the lead … except the play was stopped before it was snapped, because they are reviewing that PREVIOUS play to see if Chubb crossed the line before he fumbled. So, uh, take a touchdown off the board to try to put a touchdown on the board, I guess.

And, in fact, the ruling on the field stands, and Chubb is stuffed at the 1. What a strange, strange, strange series of plays. Seattle ball on their own 2, holding on to a 25-20 lead.

Vince Verhei: This has been a poorly officiated game. A lot of questionable calls — most notably a blindside block against Jarvis Landry where he almost seemed to be stepping away from the defender — and a few instances where nobody seemed to know what was up with the play clock. Just now, Browns were going for it on fourth-and-goal. Seattle was flagged for an obvious 12th man who failed to get off the field. Browns snapped the ball and ran a screen and Landry fumbled the ball into the end zone. Browns recovered, but on fourth down, the ball goes back to the spot of the fumble. There’s a big huddle to discuss this, then it’s announced that Cleveland wants to challenge the fumble. Then the teams line up to run a play before the challenge can even be held! Freddie Kitchens is losing his mind. Eventually they get things right and review the play, and the call stands. So they take the penalty, it’s still fourth-and-goal, and Chubb is stuffed for a loss. Seahawks take over at their own 2, up 25-20 with about 11 minutes to go.

Aaron Schatz: It looks like Cleveland went with a slow-developing run with 14 personnel on that fourth-and-1. Yuck.

Bryan Knowles: Terrible goal-line sequence or not, one of the benefits of going for it at the goal line is you pin the other team deep. And, indeed, Seattle loses a yard, and have to punt from their own 1-yard line. Michael Dickson, punter extraordinaire, absolutely shanks one — it goes 23 yards, and the Browns essentially start with the ball in the red zone . And, indeed, two Nick Chubb runs later, they hit the end zone for a score! What a sudden switch.

The two-point conversion succeeds; it’s 28-25 Cleveland.

Vince Verhei: I had hoped that the Rams win had signaled the end of the Hot Rotten Garbage Seahawks of 2019. It appears I was wrong.

Seattle has retaken the lead on a nine-play drive where they never even got to third down. Chris Carson scores on a 1-yard plunge on first-and-goal. Browns trail 32-28 with 3:30 and two timeouts left. That’s plenty of time for one drive, of course, but if they don’t score this may be their last chance.

Mayfield throws his third interception of the day, and you could argue that none were his fault. One was the tipped pass in the end zone; one, his receivers bonked into each other and took themselves out of the play; and now, he hits Dontrell Hilliard in the hands, but Hilliard tips it to K.J. Wright for the INT. There have been a lot of those off-target-but-catchable throws for Cleveland that have been dropped. Mayfield needs better accuracy, and his receivers also need to help him out more.

Seahawks have a third-and-7, needing a first down to put this on ice. DK Metcalf runs a curl and gets the ball with two feet down, but then it’s yanked free and out of bounds. Seems like a failure to control the ball to the ground to me, but refs rule it a catch and fumble, and since it went out of bounds, Seattle gets its first down and proceeds to kill the clock.

A terribly frustrating loss for Cleveland, which failed to capitalize on many opportunities. Seahawks move to 5-1 behind what I assume is the strong MVP favorite right now. It’s not just that Wilson’s numbers are stellar, it’s that they have needed every single one of his plays — an average quarterback would have lost three or four games with this roster. And next week we get Wilson vs. Lamar Jackson! Fun!

Carl Yedor: I’m personally quite surprised that the Seahawks are 5-1, given the issues they’ve had on defense, but their schedule and close game results have worked in their favor. They are now 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less (and even the loss shouldn’t really count because it got to be less than seven points on the very last play of the game). A quarterback lineup that looked much tougher entering the year (Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Kyler Murray, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield) was weakened notably by injuries to Roethlisberger and Brees and worse performance from Goff and Mayfield. They get defensive tackle Jarran Reed back, so maybe that helps their pass rush and the rest of the defense as a result. But this doesn’t really feel sustainable outside of the fact that Wilson has been playing out of his mind.

Washington Redskins 17 at Miami Dolphins 16

Vince Verhei: The Tagovailoa Bowl has been just as exciting as you would think, with six straight punts to start the game, and that’s at the end of the first quarter. Washington doesn’t even have a first down yet. Miami has three — one of them a nifty direct snap jet sweep for a fourth-down conversion — but they have given those gains back, allowing four sacks so far.

Points! Beautiful, beautiful points! Washington drives 90-plus yards — most of them by Adrian Peterson on the ground — and Terry McLaurin finishes with a 25-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Every Washington receiver not named Terry McLaurin: five receptions, 28 yards. Terry McLaurin: two receptions, 58 yards, two touchdowns.

Washington might stink to high heaven, but McLaurin’s a nice find.

As for the Dolphins? Josh Rosen has thrown two interceptions and been sacked four times. They are, at least, winning the time of possession battle! Good job, Miami. 14-3 Washington.

Aaron Schatz: McLaurin is a huge miss for Playmaker Score and it’s safe to wonder why on earth they didn’t use him more at Ohio State. He had only 29 catches for 436 yards as a junior in 2017, and even as a senior his 701 receiving yards ranked only third on the team behind Parris Campbell (Colts second-rounder) and K. J. Hill (senior, will be in 2020 draft).

Vince Verhei: One of the assumptions of systems like Playmaker (and QBASE, in some ways) is that a given NCAA team will have a limited number of NFL-caliber players. When one team has multiple pro prospects fighting each other for one ball, all their projections are going to be suppressed. As I recall, Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne both had lukewarm projections in our earlier versions of Playmaker … because they were competing with each other for catches at the University of Miami.

Bryan Knowles: Earlier this week, the Dolphins said that their quarterback position was “settled”; that Josh Rosen would get a 12-game tryout for the starting job in 2020. They just pulled him in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Vince Verhei: Dolphins were trailing 17-3 and looking like they had Tua Tagovailoa all wrapped up and things were going great. Then they screwed everything up, yanking Rosen for Fitzpatrick, who promptly goes 3-of-4 for 35 yards to set up a Kalen Ballage goal-line plunge. It’s now 17-10 with almost 11 minutes to go.

I will be heartbroken if Miami wins this. I don’t know if they are the right franchise to manage Tagovailoa, but I am certain that Washington is not.

Dolphins have a second-and-10 at their own 25 at the two-minute warning, one timeout, down 17-10. This may be the most important two minutes of the day.

Scott Spratt: Please go for two, Dolphins! Hahaha, they do, but Kenyan Drake dropped a screen pass. Dolphins lose by one. Tanking masterpiece.

Vince Verhei: Devante Parker gets the touchdown with six seconds to go, beating Josh Norman on a slant route for the score. Dolphins DO go for two. THE NEXT TEN YEARS IN THE NFL HANG ON THIS SNAP.

They line Kenyan Drake up wide, bring him into the formation in motion, and throw him the ball on a screen … AND HE DROPS IT. GAME OVER. WASHINGTON WINS.

The entire offseason was almost thrown into the fire on one competent fourth quarter there.

Aaron Schatz: I wonder if Fitzpatrick’s 12-for-18, 132 yards and two touchdown drives will singlehandedly keep Miami out of the “worst DVOA ever” spot.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Minnesota Vikings 38

Bryan Knowles: Stefon Diggs is still really fast. He just ran past the entire Eagles secondary to catch a 62-yard bomb for a score, just his second of the year. A few more of those, and Minnesota writers won’t have any drama to cover!

17-3 Vikings, as the Eagles haven’t really gotten off the deck yet. Minnesota has 10 first downs; Philadelphia has only run 12 plays!

Needing to get something going, Philadelphia attempts a fourth-and-2 from midfield. They actually had a second-and-2, but second down ended up falling incomplete on one of those “both of you guys were committing pass interference, so we’ll call nothing” plays, and then attempts to hit Dallas Goedert and Alshon Jeffery fell incomplete. You can’t blame Philly for trying, because they were basically hanging on the ropes, and needed to dodge a knockout punch…

… which came the very next play, with Kirk Cousins hitting Stefon Diggs again on a bomb. A beautiful play-action that set Diggs free, running behind the defense again. It’s 24-3, and it already feels like this game is over, midway through the second quarter. Yowza.

Scott Spratt: Kirk Cousins hits Stefon Diggs in the face with a pass, but it deflects for an Andrew Sendejo pick. More evidence we need a separate stat for deflected picks.

San Francisco 49ers 20 at Los Angeles Rams 7

Bryan Knowles: Man, the Rams are running right over the 49ers’ defense. That’s why you pay Todd Gurley all that mon — wait what? Gurley’s out for the game? So it was just Malcom Brown running for 40 yards, and Robert Woods adding 16 more and a touchdown, on the Rams’ opening drive? Huh. What about that.

First rushing touchdown allowed by San Francisco this year, and the Rams take an early 7-0 lead in maybe not a must-win game for them, but a big, big bounceback game. If they can’t beat the 49ers at home, on a long rest, with San Francisco on a short rest and missing both tackles, then they are in deep trouble. So far, however, so good.

The 49ers respond with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The Rams ARE getting pressure on the 49ers, and Jimmy Garoppolo has taken a number of hits, but they’ve been too eager, jumping offsides and salvaging a third-down play for San Francisco. The YAC-heavy offense for San Francisco strikes again, with Jimmy G hitting both Matthew Breida and Dante Pettis on short passes which became huge gains. 7-7 game.

Vince Verhei: Joseph Noteboom carted off for L.A. after a defender rolls into his leg. I know I’ve noted this before, but the days of perfect health for Rams offensive linemen couldn’t last forever.

George Kittle gets wide open on a play-action pass, then breaks a bunch of tackles to rumble down field and set the 49ers up with a first-and-goal. Kittle set the tight end record for receiving yards last year and I still think he’s underrated. People don’t know how good he is.

But on third-and-goal from the 1, Jimmy Garoppolo throws up a duck of a pass right to Marcus Peters for the interception. I’m not even sure who Garoppolo was throwing to there. It’s announced that there is a facemask foul on L.A., which would wipe out the play, but refs correct themselves and call it on the 49ers, so the Rams get the ball and good field position.

I still have no idea if Garoppolo is good or not.

Bryan Knowles: Garoppolo learned that red zone interception from watching Tom Brady this season.

It was a miscommunication at the end zone — Garoppolo had a receiver standing right in front of the end zone; Jimmy G thought he would go forward into the end zone but, uh, he was standing still. Just throw it to him, and let him walk after catching it, Jimmy.

Vince Verhei: Boy, you guys weren’t kidding about Darrell Henderson today. Rams take over near midfield and he gets five carries in six plays. He gains 22 and 14 yards to put the Rams on the goal line, but then he fails to score on second-, third-, and fourth-and-1. Those short-yardage failures are DYAR-killers. L.A. is clearly going to feed this guy and avoid the terrifying San Francisco pass rush.

Aaron Schatz: Looks like Henderson gained 4 yards on second-and-goal from the 5, then they brought in Malcolm Brown and he’s the one who couldn’t push through from the 1 on third- and fourth-and-goal.

Bryan Knowles: 7-7 at the half, in a very entertaining game. Garoppolo’s brainfart at the end zone and the red zone stop at the other end kept a bunch of points off the board, but both teams are giving each other a hell of a time.

If you had told me that Team A would have 102 first-half rushing yards, and team B would have 165 passing yards, I would have been sure that the 49ers were slugging it out on the ground and the Rams were zipping it around, but no, not at all. Instead, it has been George Kittle and Matt Breida gaining tons of YAC (the Rams really need to play tighter coverage in the second half) and Malcom Brown and Darrell Henderson gashing the 49ers’ defensive line (they gotta force the Rams into some more passing situations). Not at all what I expected coming in, but some good football happening.

Vince Verhei: Bizarre, indecisive end-of-half management for San Francisco. With 58 seconds left, they complete a pass to George Kittle in bounds to set up a fourth-and-1 at the Rams 41. They line up to run a play, try to get the Rams to jump offsides, then call timeout. So now there are only 16 seconds left. Not enough time even if you do convert, so might as well punt, right? Except the 49ers do run a fourth-and-1 play, and Garoppolo keeps the ball on a bootleg and converts, and they call their last timeout. OK, great, first down, but you still need to get closer to try a field goal. Instead, Garoppolo throws a pair of passes out of bounds over everyone’s head, and Robbie Gould misses the 55-yard try. That was a greatly passive-aggressive sequence.

Right before that completion to Kittle, Garoppolo threw another pass that should have been intercepted by Cory Littleton, who moved out of the middle to jump a slant route, but then dropped the easy pick. I’m still not sure what to make of Garoppolo. I am sure, however, that the 49ers pass defense is an unholy terror. Jared Goff ain’t perfect, but he’s really good at producing big plays, and he was in the Super Bowl just a few months ago. In the first half, he has seven completions for a total of 27 yards and zero, nada, zilch first downs.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, that’s not the way you want to start a half. Remember the Raiders pitch-fumble from the London game last week? Well, the Rams saw that on film and decided to copy it, with Goff pitching the ball right into the back of Henderson’s helmet. The 49ers recover inside the red zone, and while the Rams put up a bit of effort — no easy goal line plays in this one — a Garoppolo sneak at the line gives the 49ers a touchdown and the 14-7 lead.

This game has been all about goal-line defense. The 49ers drove right back into the end zone and had first-and-goal on the 2. They ran into a 10-man box and threw the ball out of the back of the end zone, and then Tevin Coleman dropped a walk-in touchdown. The throw wasn’t perfect, but it hit Coleman in the hands — Coleman starts over Breida because of his receiving skills. Yikes.

The 49ers give up and kick a 25-yard field goal (would have been 20, but they took the delay of game) to make it 17-7. Two score lead isn’t nothing, but I would have gone for it again.

Vince Verhei: 49ers lead 14-7 and are driving for the death blow. On third-and-goal from the 2, Garoppolo has Tevin Coleman totally uncovered in the right flat, but his pass is too high and Coleman is unable to reel it in. And then apparently Pete Carroll is coaching San Francisco now, because this dominant rushing team opts to kick a 20-yard field goal (actually 25 yards after a delay of game call, but the kicking unit had already taken the field by then). Honestly, given the way they’re throttling Goff right now, I get it, but still a missed opportunity for San Francisco.

Derrik Klassen: Maybe I’ve missed it somewhere before, but do we know what the largest defensive DVOA turnaround ever is? Surely SF’s defense will come down a bit by the end of the year, and being 23rd last year isn’t terrible, but I have to imagine this year-over-year leap is at least one of the better turnaround in recent years.

Aaron Schatz: There have been some pretty crazy defensive turnarounds. Even just limiting it to the last couple of years, we’ve got the 2017 Saints going from 31st to eighth and even bigger, the 2016 Giants going from 30th to second. And the Giants dropped back to 24th the year after that.

Rivers McCown: 2011 Jags went from No. 32 to No. 5 in DVOA, if I recall correctly.

Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-1 from the Rams’ 44, the Rams have to go for it even with 10:26 left int he game. Henderson slams into the line, and the crowd roars!

… because it’s, like, 80% red and gold, even in Los Angeles. The 49ers have another fourth-and-inches stop, and I think they’re going to pull this one out.

Vince Verhei: More short-yardage troubles for both teams. 49ers are stuffed on third down and kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 again.

On the next drive, Richard Sherman leaves the field after making a tackle. Looked like he hurt his right arm or shoulder or hand. He’s in the blue tent.

That leaves the Rams with a second-and-1, but they can’t capitalize. Second-and-1, Goff’s pass (which wouldn’t have been a first down anyway) is broken up, incomplete. Third-and-1, Goff scrambles and throws downfield, not close to anyone. Fourth-and-1, the Rams finally try running, but Henderson is stuffed for no gain. 49ers take over, up 20-7, 10-plus minutes to go in the game.

Bryan Knowles: Big swing, and it’s Aaron Donald. Donald hits Garoppolo as he was getting ready to throw, and the ball comes out. Corey Litttleton scoops it up, runs 10 yards, and laterals it back to Nickell Robey-Coleman. Rams have the ball now in the red zone. Still a two-score game, and they NEED a touchdown here, but a big, big stand by the Rams’ defense.

Play’s under review, but it looked like a fumble to me.

Vince Verhei: Well, it’s not over yet. Aaron Donald (who has made a bunch of splash plays today) swats the ball out offGaroppolo’s hand. Littleton picks it up and runs with it, then pitches to Nickell Robey-Coleman, who gets a big return into the red zone. But after replay, they rule Robey-Coleman stepped out of bounds early and move the ball back to the 35. Still the first time the Rams have crossed midfield today.

Sherman returns to the field for San Francisco. Rams quickly get a third-and-2, and then Goff throws back-to-back incompletions again. Both broken up by 49ers defenders who had receivers totally smothered. The fourth-down play would have been short even if it had been complete. We’re down to 7 and a half minutes left, maybe in the Rams’ season.

Derrik Klassen: Rams safety John Johnson just got ruled out with a shoulder injury. The Rams’ chances are slim regardless, but not having Johnson on the field when the 49ers get the ball back could really hurt. Johnson is one of their best coverage players in a fairly bad pass defense, so you have to worry about how freely SF should be able to throw, if need be, to close the game out.

Bryan Knowles: The Rams are now 1-for-10 on third and fourth down this game. Throwing the ball short of the sticks on fourth-and-2 (!) doesn’t help, but dang. That’s no good.

Derrik Klassen: According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, Jared Goff has not picked up a first down on even one of his 18 dropbacks. That … seems bad, especially when his cap hit is creeping up on $40 million next year.

Vince Verhei: I have been waiting to note Goff’s first first down, but it hasn’t happened yet. I thought they might get one when the 49ers backed off with a two-touchdown lead and five minutes to go, but no. Strip-sack on first down, incomplete on second, sack on third down, punt on fourth-and-26, and the sun has almost set here.

Cooper Kupp slips a tackle and gains 12 yards on second-and-10, and there is Jared Goff’s first first down of the day. There’s 3:16 left in the game and the Rams are down 20-7.

And it may be Goff’s last first down of the day. It gets to fourth-and-6, and Gerald Everett somehow gets behind Sherman for what should be a touchdown, but Goff overthrows him by 5 yards.

Raheem Mostert runs for 8 yards on third-and-6, and now Garoppolo is taking knees.

There’s really two options here: either Jared Goff reverted to rookie form today, or the 49ers defense is a level of scary the likes of which we haven’t seen before. I’m leaning toward the latter. Goff has been under pressure all day, and until that Everett throw I don’t recall him missing an open man. Honestly, I think Garoppolo may have had more bad throws today than Goff did.

Atlanta Falcons 33 at Arizona Cardinals 34

Aaron Schatz: I’m not sure how the officials did not overturn a Damiere Byrd play that came at the start of the second quarter. 58-yard deep pass from Kyler Murray, and Atlanta defender Isaiah Oliver tackles Byrd and turns him over and Byrd loses the ball and it is recovered by Atlanta in the end zone. Originally called down, but the replay clearly shows that no part of Byrd’s body touches the ground at any point. He’s not down. That’s a fumble. I have no idea how that’s not overturned. Three plays later, short pass to Chase Edmonds, touchdown and Arizona takes a 10-7 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Someone tell me who had David Johnson on this play. Please.

Andrew Potter: My best guess would be Keanu Neal. Keanu Neal, of course, is on IR.

Aaron Schatz: Arizona has blown a 17-point lead. Their offense had not gone three-and-out all day, then went three-and-out the last two drives. Atlanta has 17 points on its three drives in the second half and that last three-and-out gives Atlanta the ball now for a fourth drive.

Aha, the Cardinals woke up again! On both sides of the ball. First, they strip Matt Ryan on third-and-10, although the Falcons recovered. The Falcons get a fair catch interference penalty on the punt, so the Cardinals get the ball on the Atlanta 45. They make the 45 yards, ending it with a beautiful throw by Murray caught by David Johnson despite DPI by Kemal Ishmael. 34-27 Arizona.

Bryan Knowles: Scramble’s latest Head-to-Head Survivor battle, which almost always involves two terrible teams, is coming down to the wire again. Matt Ryan just hit Devonta Freeman, who was wide open to tie the g–

No! Matt Bryant misses the extra point! 34-33, Arizona, with 1:53 left in the game!

Aaron Schatz: Here’s another example of where the new kickoff rules matter. With 1:53 left and two timeouts, the Falcons chose to kick it away and they’ll try to stop the Cardinals offense instead of trying an onside kick. I wonder if they would have gone for the onside kick if the onside kick was not so much harder now.

Cardinals ice the game when Kyler Murray runs a bootleg on third-and-5 and JUST BARELY gets past the first-down marker before he runs out of bounds. In fact, there’s definitely a good argument to be made that the ball itself was behind the line to gain when he crossed out of bounds. If they overturn that, then Murray has stopped the clock for the Atlanta offense in its attempt to comeback. But they review it and do not overturn it. Murray really should have been holding that ball out in front of him as he crossed the sticks and he got kind of lucky. Bit of a rookie mistake.

Dallas Cowboys 22 at New York Jets 24

Aaron Schatz: The New York Jets have a working defense again! Sam Darnold is 7-for-9 for 60 yards and has hit six different receivers, and Le’Veon Bell runs it in to give the Jets an actual 7-0 lead. Darnold is wearing a lot of padding today to protect his spleen and other internal organs but it didn’t stop the Jets from running him on a quarterback sneak that converted a third-and-1.

Bryan Knowles: The Jets get a big red zone stand against Dallas — their first in 58 attempts, per the announcers — and then Sam Darnold hits Robby Anderson for a 92-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead. Darnold really was the spleen heart of that offense.

Aaron Schatz: Near the end of the second quarter, the Jets stuff Ezekiel Elliott on third-and-1 and then stop a Dak Prescott sweep left on fourth-and-2 to get the ball back at their own 8. And then, Sam Darnold, 92 yards to Robbie Anderson for the longest play of the 2019 season so far! Take that, mononucleosis.

Vince Verhei: That was Chidobe Awuzie in coverage on the Anderson touchdown. From what I have seen he has been Dallas’ weakest cornerback this season — I remember the Dolphins burning him over and over in the first quarter earlier this year.

Aaron Schatz: Brett Maher hits a 62-yarder on the final play before halftime to make the game Jets 21, Cowboys 6 but this still looks like the upset of the day. Amari Cooper is injured and on the sideline, since Randall Cobb is out, and Tyron Smith and Le’El Collins are out, that means that the Cowboys are down their two starting tackles and two of their three starting wide receivers against a Jets defense that is No. 10 in DVOA. They’ve got a hill to climb to come back in this.

It looks like the Cowboys finally got Ezekiel Elliott going in the first drive of the third quarter but even that is a bit of a mirage. Elliott had 33 yards on that drive but that was on nine carries. There was a run of 13 yards but also two that lost yardage. It looked like the Cowboys scored a touchdown at the end but that was called back on OPI on rookie Cedrick Wilson Jr. Elliott can’t haul in the third-down pass so they bring in Maher again and now it is 21-9 Jets.

Jets march down the field again but Sam Darnold just threw it high and behind Jamison Crowder, and right into the arms of nickelback Jourdain Lewis of Dallas. Keeps the Cowboys in the game, but they’ll still need another couple long offensive drives if they want to come back in this one.

The Cowboys just kicked a field goal on fourth-and-9 from the Jets 22 with 14 minutes left. I realize that it’s fourth-and-9, that’s a tough one to make, but how much does a field goal help you when it’s going to make the score 21-12, still a two-score game?

And Maher misses it! So it’s still 21-9.

Cowboys are trying to come back from a 24-16 deficit and they just drew two DPI penalties on the Jets in three plays. Total of 37 yards between the two plays. The play between had an illegal contact penalty that was declined. So that brings the Cowboys down to the Jets 12, but then they get their own flag, offensive holding. And on the play after that, the Cowboys get called for an illegal block in the back. So now it’s first-and-28 from the Jets 30. And the Jets just got called for ANOTHER DPI, this time for 14 yards, to give the Cowboys a new set of downs. And then Prescott scrambles for 8 yards and finally it’s the first play in seven plays without a damn penalty flag.

Cowboys call a quarterback draw, and Prescott is in for a 4-yard touchdown. That makes it 24-22. On the two-point conversion, the Jets stuff up the middle of the line to prevent a run, then they blitz five guys, safety Jamal Adams hurries Prescott, and he underthrows Jason Witten as Adams takes him down to the ground. Looks like the Jets will win this upset unless the Cowboys can get the onside kick.

Vince Verhei: So, the Jets are 1-4. 8-8 probably gets a wild-card berth in the AFC. They still play Cincinnati. They still play Washington. And they still play Miami — twice.

Their season is a lot more intriguing now than it was three hours ago, that’s for sure.

Tennessee Titans 0 at Denver Broncos 16

Bryan Knowles: The first 19 drives of this one: 13 punts, three interceptions, two field goals, one end of half. Offense can’t exist a mile above sea level, everybody knows that!

Drive 20 ended up being more productive. Marcus Mariota threw his second interception, both of the game and the season, to set Denver up in Tennessee territory. Royce Freeman had the big 19-yard gain to set things up, and Phillip Lindsay ran into the end zone for the touchdown to take a 13-0 lead. Tennessee has really no-shown today.

And as I say that, Ryan Tannehill is in the game for the Titans. Not an injury, apparently — coaches’ decision. But I was told there was no quarterback controversy in Tennessee!

Vince Verhei: I’m not watching this game, but I hear that Marcus Mariota has been benched for Ryan Tannehill.

Bryan Knowles: It turns out Ryan Tannnehill is not the solution to Tennessee’s offensive problems, either. Tannehill did go 13-of-16 for 144 yards, as the Broncos were mostly playing soft, but HE threw an interception in the red zone, too, to officially end this one.

Denver has a two-game winning streak, Kansas City has a two-game losing streak going into Thursday night. Did not see that coming.

Tom Gower: The Titans ran one play in Broncos territory in the first three quarters of today’s game. It was a punt.

Both teams finished 2-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts. The Broncos did not go for it on any fourth downs. The Titans’ fourth-down attempts, both featuring Ryan Tannehill, ended in a sack and an interception.

Like last week’s game against Buffalo, I did not expect much from either offense in terms of consistent execution, and expected a game decided by random big plays, turnovers, and big special teams plays. The Broncos’ opening field goal came on a drive starting at the Titans 45. The Broncos’ second field goal came on a drive that featured one first down, the game’s longest play, a nice 41-yard completion to Courtland Sutton over Logan Ryan. The Broncos’ (and the game’s) lone touchdown came on a drive that started at the Titans 41 after Marcus Mariota’s second interception. (I missed this part of the game traveling from Viewing Place 2, where the game ended up being unavailable, to Viewing Place 3.) The Broncos’ third field goal featured their second third-down conversion, a nice tight-window completion to Sutton that appeared at least somewhat similar in design if not execution to Mariota’s first interception, and the game’s second-longest play, a 30-yard run by Phillip Lindsay where the Titans defense lost contain. The Titans were fortunate enough to start one possession in Denver territory, at the 36, but could only manage one first down and it ended with their first fourth-down failure, in the red zone down 13-0. The Titans’ garbage final drive, ending with their second fourth-down failure, was the drive’s only game with as many as four first downs. The Broncos’ touchdown drive was the only other drive of the game, by either team, to feature three first downs. Those of you who like proficient offense who were unable to see this game, consider yourselves fortunate.

Of course, this is eluding the whole issue, that the Titans benched Mariota for Ryan Tannehill following that second interception. This predictably solved every issue you’d think it would solve, namely almost none of them. Derrick Henry, who finished with 15 carries for 28 yards, lost yards on three of his four carries after the quarterback change. The Titans were 1-of-5 on third downs (OK, this is technically better). Tannehill was sacked four times on 21 dropbacks, compared to Mariota’s three sacks on 22 dropbacks (this wasn’t). They’re not exactly the same player, but this was an offense that was going nowhere behind an underachieving offensive line and swapped out a quarterback who isn’t consistently a net positive playmaker for another quarterback of similar style. I don’t know what the Titans are going to do at quarterback next week, but unless they’re a lot better around him, it doesn’t matter. And, no, I’m not blaming Derrick Henry; I was severely critical of him until he turned the table last year, and he has been a good at running this year even when ineffective. But I should have regarded his drop on the Titans’ opening-play screen as an omen for the day.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 ‘at’ Los Angeles Chargers 17 (Los Angeles)

Aaron Schatz: That stadium has to be 90% Steelers fans. It’s ridiculous.

Bryan Knowles: Add in the terrible Rams’ attendance today, and could the two combined L.A. teams have filled either stadium today?

I can’t explain whatever the phenomenon is where I somehow forget Tyson Alualu is in the league every single week, every season. I’m surprised every time I see him even though plays a fair amount.


Rivers McCown: I guess the upside of the Chargers being the unluckiest team in the league every year is that at least nobody pulls for them anymore.

Losing 14-0 to Devlin Hodges Mutual Funds. Yikes!

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers can’t tackle tonight. The Steelers just threw a little swing pass to John Conner on third-and-8 and Jatavis Brown just completely whiffed on him and Conner not only got the first down, he got a touchdown to make it 21-0. This is turning into a laugher.

Carl Yedor: Pittsburgh’s defense has been impressive the past few weeks. Yes, they’re 1-4, but they have been close in all of their losses since the opener against New England despite not having Ben Roethlisberger for the majority of that stretch. With some better close-game luck moving forward they could avoid having to send Miami a top-ten pick this year.

Scott Spratt: I’m hoping that hunters have the knowledge to appreciate Devlin Hodges’ duck-calling abilities because it seems to me that he’s basically blowing a whistle. I’ll take Justin Tucker’s opera singing every day of the week.

Scott Spratt: With a score of 24-3 with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, I’m sure no one is watching at this point. But I do want to give Mike Williams some props for, on the same play, pancaking Bud Dupree with a block, catching a pass, and making two defenders miss to get a first down. It’s not going to help the Chargers actually win, but he’s starting to look healthy again.

And six minutes later, Williams limps off the field, nursing what looks like a re-aggravated knee injury. Sigh.

Vince Verhei: Didn’t see the game, but at the two-minute warning I see that the Chargers have about 80 more yards of offense than Pittsburgh, and three more first downs … and they are losing by two touchdowns. How very Chargers-ish.

Aaron Schatz: I’ve been sort of half-watching, but what do you know, two touchdown throws to Hunter Henry and the Chargers are now within a touchdown, 24-17. They’ve got all three timeouts so they’ll kick away, try to stop the Steelers without a first down, and then try to get downfield without a timeout. I doubt the Steelers will do anything fancy other than run three straight times — they really aren’t having Hodges throw downfield at all except for the one pass that was picked off.

Rivers McCown: I’ve been watching. Not much to say outside of how unbelievable it is that the Chargers kicked the field goal down 24.

Aaron Schatz: Nope. They didn’t kick away. They tried an onside kick. It did not work.

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