June 21, 2021

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Audibles at the Line: Week 9

48 min read

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 Lions 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 27 at Jacksonville Jaguars 25

Cale Clinton: First NFL completion for Jacksonville quarterback Jake Luton is a 73-yard strike to DJ Chark for a touchdown. Talk about a hot start.

Cale Clinton: … and Deshaun Watson answers with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks for HIS first completion of the afternoon. Fourteen points on the board before 90 seconds roll off the clock.

Scott Spratt: David Johnson is out of this game in the concussion protocol. That may make it difficult for the Texans to win the DeAndre Hopkins trade.

Cale Clinton: The fireworks that kicked this game off have since faded. Fourteen points in 90 seconds have been followed up by 12 points before the two-minute warning.

That being said, the Jacksonville special teams unit has been, for lack of a better term, special in this first half. Chris Claybrooks specifically has been phenomenal at downing Logan Cooke’s punts deep. The Jaguars’ last two punts have both been downed at the 6- and 2-yard-line, respectively. The first of these punts was saved from a touchback by a diving Claybrooks, while the latter was downed by Claybrooks himself.

Bryan Knowles: Of course, all that great punting only matters if your defense can actually stop someone. The Texans just put together a 98-yard drive in 1:33, albeit aided by a 50-yard pass interference call. It was the right call, it was interference, but it’s a good argument for providing a 15-yard version of the foul; it was more of a bump than an outright tackle or something that would justify 50 freaking penalty yards. To their credit, Houston capitalized, with DeShaun Watson improvising his way to the 1-yard line on a broken play, and Duke Johnson pounding it in the next play.

That should be enough to give Houston the 20-13 lead as they go into the half.

Cale Clinton: Chris Claybrooks may be the only Jaguars player who wants to win this game. Following the 98-yard Houston touchdown drive, Claybrooks returns the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to set up the Jacksonville field goal and cut Houston’s lead to four. Special teams: it matters!

Scott Spratt: Entering this week, the Jets had the highest chance of the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft (57.9%) followed by the Jaguars (16.8%), Giants (8.9%), Cowboys (6.7%), Washington (2.3%), and then Texans (2.1%).

I’d be curious to see where the Texans landed if the Jaguars upset them today. Remember that the Dolphins have their first-round pick. The Fins could conceivably end up with both Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa, maybe the best two quarterbacks in college football history.

Bryan Knowles: Surely, the Dolphins would try to auction that pick off, right? Or would they really pull a Cardinals and go back-to-back first-round quarterbacks?

Scott Spratt: I have no idea. I don’t subscribe to the pessimism for Tagovailoa after just his first-ever start. But this type of scenario doesn’t happen every year (and almost definitely won’t this year with the Jets in the driver’s seat).

Dave Bernreuther: We were JUST having this conversation. Dismissing Tua after one single game is lunacy, but if you rate Lawrence as a sure thing, which many do, I don’t see an argument against taking him. By that point in time, Tua will have either flailed all season, giving them more of a sample from which to judge and making it an easy call, or he’ll be good, in which case his trade market will be much higher than that of Josh Rosen when the Cards traded him after drafting Kyler Murray.

It’d be a good problem to have, but I’m still going to call it a moot point. The Jets are BAD. And I refuse to believe a team with Deshaun Watson at quarterback will be anywhere near the first pick by the time the season is over. We should all refuse to believe that.

Scott Spratt: Jake Luton just led the Jags to a touchdown in the two-minute drill, culminating in a nifty spin move on a 13-yard rushing touchdown.

Sadly, Luton failed to convert the two-point try, and so the Jags are likely going to lose this game 27-25.

Rivers McCown: I am surprised nobody brought up this live since this game was fairly well-covered: Will Fuller’s touchdown catch happened after the play clock hit zero and remained there for a good three or four seconds. Doug Marrone was apoplectic.

The Texans are a bad football team, as they proved again in this game. They can’t run the ball. They can’t play defense. But they do have Deshaun Watson, so they didn’t lose to the Jaguars. Here is a Fuller recap.

Baltimore Ravens 24 at Indianapolis Colts 10

Dave Bernreuther: With all due respect to the battle of six-win teams in Buffalo, to me the game of the day in another surprisingly stacked 1 p.m. window is the five-win matchup with the Ravens in Indianapolis for the first time in the Lamar Jackson era.

Calais Campbell getting hurt on the second play of the game changes things a bit, though. That’s no fun.

Bryan Knowles: First blood in this one goes to Indianapolis, with a drive that I think involved nearly every active skill player for the Colts — all three running backs (Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, and Jonathan Taylor) had carries, as did receiver De’Michael Harris; both Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman had receptions, with Pittman picking up a big third down and Pascal following it up with the longest gain of the drive; and even Mo Alie-Cox got into the action by drawing a pass interference call in the end zone. Against a swarmy, sturdy Ravens defense, that’s not a bad plan; all hands on deck, rather than just feeding someone over and over again. Taylor’s dive puts the Colts up 7-0 late in the first quarter.

Scott Spratt: After recovering a Taylor fumble, Chuck Clark did an awesome hurdle jump over Philip Rivers on his back. He scored on the play, knotting this one up at 7-7.

Bryan Knowles: I think that Philip Rivers’ defensive effort requires video evidence.

Rivers is an old, not-very-mobile man.

Scott Spratt: Rivers’ attempted tackle gets funnier the more you watch the play. Is he not coordinated enough to run in one direction while he faces another? I mean, the field is flat.

Bryan Knowles: “I’ve fallen — and I can’t get up!”

Aaron Schatz: Ravens will go into halftime with 55 net yards. Nothing they do today is working. The Colts aren’t falling for any of the misdirection: not the zone reads, not the play-actions, not the screen passes. Matt Skura has an injured hand and is having trouble snapping the ball. And the Ravens seem to have no plays where they throw the ball far downfield. Jackson has attempted no passes more than 15 yards downfield. Colts coverage is also strong on the short stuff. On the other side, the Ravens coverage has also been good and that’s what’s keeping this game close at 10-7 Colts.

Dave Bernreuther: After Denico Autry takes down Jackson for a loss, the Ravens will finish the first half with 55 yards of offense and zero points (as the touchdown was, of course, scored by the defense).

It would be fair to criticize my earlier lack of trust in this defense.

The Colts lead only 10-7, pending the outcome of the Jacoby Brissett Hail Mary that’s about to happen, so there’s still time to change the outcome, but the Ravens offense and last year’s MVP are going to need to turn things around.

Bryan Knowles: Baltimore’s offense, which has been in neutral all day, finally gets something going to start the second half, aided by a diving catch by Nick Boyle. It looks like they’re going to march in and retake the lead, with Jackson running through a clear lane towards the end zone, but Darius Leonard manages to just wrap up Jackson by the legs to keep him short. That forces them to run another play, a handoff to Gus Edwards, which is blown up immediately; Edwards fumbles, Bobby Okereke scoops it up, and it’s still 10-7, Colts. Bend but don’t break, one supposes.

Scott Spratt: Rivers took the good fortune of that Edwards fumble and immediately threw it to cornerback Marcus Peters. The ball seemed pretty clearly incomplete on the should-be interception, but the refs overturned it and called it a pick? I’m trying to figure out what happened.

Scott Spratt: How is this an interception?

Dave Bernreuther: I was just about to compliment Colts WR Marcus Johnson for his pass defense there (and jokingly suggest that the Seahawks trade for him) when the game came back from commercial and they were explaining the call of an interception.

That’s outrageous.

Bryan Knowles: There is no way, shape, or form that should have been an interception. And worse, it ends up mattering — the Ravens march downfield and get their touchdown. Of course, Gus Edwards actually scored twice on the drive; the refs didn’t call the first one a score despite Edwards pretty clearly stretching the ball into the end zone on his first attempt. The refs are not covering themselves in glory today.

Ravens take a 14-10 lead midway through the third after a bizarre set of circumstances.

Aaron Schatz: Here’s a video regarding the Peters interception.

Dave Bernreuther: After the bad “interception” and the Edwards score to make it 14-10, Rivers ends a drive when he locks on to the wrong receiver while “fleeing” the pocket on third down. He threw to his right to a covered Trey Burton, but Marcus Johnson was wide open near the sideline. It was a short throw too, easily makeable even with reduced arm strength.

That’s a mistake they can’t accept against a good team in a close game.

Scott Spratt: Does anybody agree with the explanation of the overturn that gave Marcus Peters the interception? I think Alberto Riveron explained things clearly but still think the decision was super wrong based on my understanding of the rules. Not that I’ve ever understood catches versus non-catches.

Bryan Knowles: I see the argument with the letter of the rule, but I would argue strongly that Peters never had control, which is supported by the fact that he, y’know, dropped it. The use of “clear and obvious” in the explanation is definitely not correct, at the very least.

And now things are beginning to get out of hand for the Colts — they have a quick three-and-out, and then the Ravens go with one of their patented thousand-papercut drives, with Lamar Jackson running on five of their 14 plays, including the touchdown. It’s now 21-10 Ravens with 11 minutes left, and the Colts need to respond right here…

Dave Bernreuther: I don’t agree with it at all, Scott, and I don’t say that as a fan. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve seen “control to the ground” overrule any number of footsteps or even “football moves” as was cited in this case, and in this specific instance, I don’t believe he A) made any type of football move with his third footstep or B) ever even had control at any point at all (which is why my first thought was that Johnson did a good job breaking up the pass). At no point was he ever actually grasping that football; without incredibly sticky gloves, it’d have been moving the whole time. Heck … it WAS moving the whole time.

The Ravens are too good to get completely shut down in the ground game, and now we are starting to see that. Jackson scores to put them up 21-10, and now the Colts have their work cut out for them.

Bryan Knowles: I assume the numbers were in favor of the Colts here — they had a fourth-and-1 from the 16 with 5:34 left and trailing by 11. A field goal does technically make it a “one-score game,” though the needed two-point conversion means they’d have to cross the goal line twice. They opted to keep the offense and try to convert, and I support that. They were stuffed, and that likely ends this one if the Ravens can do anything on offense in response, but I think it was the right call.

Aaron Schatz: Ravens took this game in the second half by slowing things down with their running game, putting up three successful drives with a series of medium-sized gains. The Colts just failed on fourth down for the second time in the second half. Their second-half drives went interception, three-and-out, 59 yards with a failure on fourth-and-1, and then four-and-out. This game between two teams that have been much better on defense than offense this season looked like exactly that.

Carolina Panthers 31 at Kansas City Chiefs 33

Scott Spratt: On the Panthers’ opening drive, Matt Rhule was somewhat true to his word, mixing in Mike Davis with a 12-yard catch and Curtis Samuel with a 7-yard carry. But Christian McCaffrey is back from his ankle injury and seems back to a heavy workload. He had four carries and two catches on the drive, including a 9-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-and-3 conversion from the Chiefs’ 9-yard line. That puts the Panthers up 7-0 after a long first drive of this game.

Scott Spratt: Riverboat Matt Rhule! After going for and scoring on a fourth-and-3 earlier, The Panthers just converted on a fake punt. Punter Joseph Charlton completed a 28-yarder to a wide-open Brandon Zylstra. I love the aggressiveness for a Panthers team that would be outmatched by the Chiefs with a normal game plan.

Bryan Knowles: Three plays later, Teddy Bridgewater hits Samuel on a little shovel pass for the score as the Panthers bring it to the Chiefs, up 14-3. Risks paying off!

Cale Clinton: It’s early, but Carolina has done everything necessary to beat this Kansas City team. The Panthers’ first offensive drive of the afternoon shaved nearly nine minutes off the clock. Early flashes of the Carolina defense shows them rushing three or four while dropping seven or eight men back into coverage. Holding the Chiefs to a field goal early is about as much as you can ask for from your defense. Their second offensive drive featured the fake punt to keep the drive alive, setting up the Curtis Samuel jet sweep for a touchdown. This Carolina Panthers team isn’t the most talented club in the NFL, but Rhule’s scheming and aggression always seems to put the team in position to stay in games.

Scott Spratt: Check out who was playing fullback on that 14-yard Curtis Samuel touchdown:

Mike Davis!

Scott Spratt: Charlton just absolutely shanked a punt. It only went 21 yards. Remember he threw a pass 28 yards earlier this half. Stay aggressive, Matt Rhule!

Bryan Knowles: Um. Has anyone ever seen a play where a quarterback goes in motion, receives the snap, and throws a touchdown? Because now you have.

Scott Spratt: In the time it took me to look for and fail to find video of Panthers kicker Joey Slye hooking a field goal attempt so much that it went from looking like it would miss right to actually missing left, Patrick Mahomes led a 59-yard touchdown drive in 2:17 to put the Chiefs up 20-17. Since, the Panthers have had a six-play, 6-yard drive and a punt, and so the Chiefs appear on the brink of opening this one up as the game approaches the fourth quarter.

Cale Clinton: The broadcast cut away to a sitdown conversation with Travis Kelce talking about Andy Reid’s office. He described the “play cards on play cards” stacked in his office “like a triple cheeseburger.” Kelce gave the impression that Reid is just as excited about implementing new plays on offense as he is about food. Never retire, Andy. You’re a gem.

Scott Spratt: I’m not sure what Teddy Bridgewater’s plan was on this leap, but it worked out incredibly well for him.

And you have to love the Superman references as winks to former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. I don’t think that play is going to make anyone confused about which quarterback is which.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers’ aggressive play calling continues with a surprise onside kick after a Teddy Bridgewater rushing touchdown cut the team’s deficit to 26-24. And it nearly works to the point that kicker Joey Slye successfully recovered the kick himself.

Sadly for the Panthers, that recovery came a yard shy of the requisite 10 yards. I still love the call. The Chiefs are probably going to score from the 25, so at least try to steal that possession.

Cale Clinton: Mitchell Schwartz, out of this game with a back injury, finally gets a chance to see the theatrics of Patrick Mahomes live.

Tough to appreciate something you almost always have your back turned to.

Bryan Knowles: 67-yard field goal try for the win! The Panthers should have been trying to push the ball downfield more, but they have Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, so that’s not happening. They end up having to settle for Joey Slye trying to set an NFL record.

It’s not even close, and the Chiefs hang on. Phew.

Scott Spratt: Poor Joey Slye. The Panthers always make him try 60-plus-yard field goals to win their games.

Andrew Potter: The one against the Saints had the accuracy but not the distance. The one against the Chiefs had the distance but not the accuracy. He only needs to combine the two once, and he’s a legend for life.

Cale Clinton: The Joey Slye kicking role is the ideal way you want to use a kicker, though, right? The Panthers went aggressive on fourth down multiple times today, whether you look to the fake punt or the conversion on fourth-and-14. They only trotted Slye out three times all afternoon for non-extra-point situations: an unmanageable fourth-and-7, a fourth-and-2 that would have put Carolina up an even 7, and the would-be game winner.

That being said, this Panthers team feels WAY ahead of schedule. The young defense has over-performed their expectations, while the Teddy Bridgewater-led offense that lost their highest-paid weapon for six weeks has kept the team in games. The Panthers have just one loss this season by more than one score, coming against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2.

FOA 2020 had this Panthers team projected for 5.7 mean wins prior to the season. Currently sitting at 3-6, those numbers may hold, but I’d be very interested to see what FOA 2021 has to say about this team.

Scott Spratt: My prediction is that FOA 2021 will say: “Wow, wasn’t Joe Brady’s one year in Carolina fun? I wonder how he’ll do as the head coach of the Falcons/Jets/Texans/whoever?”

Seattle Seahawks 34 at Buffalo Bills 44

Carl Yedor: After showing some signs of life last week, there was hope that the return of Jamal Adams and the acquisition of Carlos Dunlap would bolster Seattle’s defense and help it approach competency moving forward this season. Through the first quarter, that has definitively NOT been the case. Buffalo has two completed drives and two touchdowns to show for it and ends the first quarter on the move. At this point, Allen is averaging 10 yards per attempt and Buffalo is threatening again already up 14-0.

Scott Spratt: Is it a bad idea to go up multiple scores on the Seahawks? That’s just an invitation for Russ to cook, which he just did to the tune of an eight-play, 85-yard drive with a 41-yard completion to DK Metcalf and an eventual Wilson rushing score on a fourth-and-goal on the Bills’ 1-yard line. The Seahawks are back within 10 down 17-7 with a bit more than six minutes left in the second quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Buffalo has 21 passes and two running back carries so far. They know what they suck at and they know what Seattle’s defense is good at.

Dave Bernreuther: Josh Allen has made a lot of strides this season. He is undoubtedly much better.

But today, he is 19-of-21 passing. That’s not a typo. NINETEEN.

Josh Allen is not a 90-plus percent passer. This is not a good look for the Seattle defense. Even given our low expectations of them. Russ is incredible, but this is making me doubt my Super Bowl pick.

21-of-23 and another touchdown now as I type that. Yeesh. Quinton Dunbar’s hips were so slow to open on that move that it looked like his feet were glued to the turf.

Scott Spratt: I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that the Seahawks have the No. 6 DVOA run defense (and No. 30 pass defense), Aaron, but they do. Or maybe they wouldn’t be surprised if they watched Bobby Wagner play against the 49ers last week.

Cale Clinton: Josh Allen might cruise to an effortless 400 yards this afternoon if Seattle doesn’t do something fast. 21-for-23 for 249 yards and three scores, with eight different players catching passes. Six of those players have more receiving yards than the Bills’ leading rusher has yards on the ground (Zack Moss with 13 yards).

Scott Spratt: Sure the Seahawks pass defense is bad, but can any team keep Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and Tyler Kroft in check?

Aaron Schatz: They don’t give a Coach of the Week award but they may need to create one for Brian Daboll and today’s “screw balance, just do nothing but pass the ball” game plan.

Dave Bernreuther: Earlier I thought, but did not type, “I really like these Seattle uniforms with the grey pants and white jerseys, as Seattle uniforms go … Vince, why don’t they wear these more?” Because they’re not that common, and because I’m a big uniform nerd, I looked them up. They’ve worn them in every preseason since 2012, but only eight times overall in the regular season. They are 1-7 them, and now trailing by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps that is why they don’t wear them that often.

Bryan Knowles: Russell Wilson might be having a terrible day, but even on one of his worst days, he can do this:

Dave Bernreuther: Oof. That has to be the biggest hit I’ve ever seen Russell Wilson take that wasn’t from the blind side. A.J. Klein wrapped the edge untouched and just obliterated him. Wilson dropped the ball in the process, and Klein scooped it up, and that ought to do it. Not going to win many games when you turn it over four times and give up 400 yards passing.

Allen could be at 450-plus too if Stefon Diggs hadn’t fallen down on a deep shot on the preceding drive.

Carl Yedor: Wilson didn’t play particularly well today, but serious credit to Buffalo for identifying Seattle’s biggest weakness (defending the pass) and going after it relentlessly. The defense had Wilson under pressure constantly, and Allen and the offense were nigh unstoppable despite taking seven sacks on the day. There has been some talk of firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., but I don’t think this team has the guys on the defensive side of the ball for it to matter all that much. Carlos Dunlap flashed some today, but the defensive backfield is pretty banged up. This team will only go as far as Wilson’s arm can take them, and on a bad day for Wilson, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Vince Verhei: Got off to a late start today and caught up with this one just after it ended. Main takeaway from a 44-34 win that if anything was more comfortable than it sounds was that Buffalo is, indeed, a very good football team. I know that sounds obvious after they ran roughshod over what had been a one-loss team, but I can’t stress enough how great they looked in almost every way. That starts with the coaching. Brian Daboll recognized that the Seahawks have been much better against the run than against the pass, so he went all Mike Leach and virtually removed the run from his playbook. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but there was a point late in the third quarter when the Bills only had three or four handoffs before they started grinding clock late in the game. So against an offense that was passing about 90% of the time, Seattle responded with an entire half of four-man rushes and soft coverage. That mostly resulted in Josh Allen standing in the pocket up to a 10-Mississippi or so and then hitting wide-open guys for 15-yard curls. That’s how the Bills scored 24 points in the first half, and it could have been worse — Tyler Bass missed a field goal from 61 yard out on the final play. In the second half, the Seahawks cranked up the pressure and used a ton of blitzes. Some of them were very effective — they finished the day with seven sacks, most of them in the second half, but that’s a deceptive number. (The Bills also suffered a bevy of offensive line injuries, which obviously didn’t help.) Because when Seattle didn’t get a sack, they usually didn’t get any pressure at all. Worse, Daboll — in the next step in his excellent game — started figuring out the Seahawks blitz schemes and called a few screen plays that hit the exact right spot at the exact right time. The biggest of those came on a third-and-16 at the Seattle 35 with Buffalo up by only a touchdown. An incompletion there forces a long field goal try; a sack forces a punt and gives Seattle the ball back with a chance to tie the game. But Daboll calls the screen to John Brown, and Brown and all his blockers get behind a big blitz and rumble down to the 2-yard line. Zack Moss scored two plays later, and Seattle was down by at least two scores for the rest of the game.

I should add that while Josh Allen had an easy day of things, on the occasions when Seattle forced him to make a play, he often delivered. Yes, he took a ton of sacks, but he was often making moves in the pocket to avoid pressure, going through progressions and letting guys get open, or making difficult tight-window throws. He’s not just a freestyle athlete with a strong arm — he’s a quarterback, and a good one. As good as I’ve ever seen him look, and as good as I’ve seen a Buffalo quarterback look since … I don’t know, Drew Bledsoe maybe? He was clearly the better quarterback today, and that’s something I couldn’t have even imagined saying even two months ago.

Speaking of Seattle’s quarterback, he struggled with turnovers for the second straight road game, finishing with two interceptions and two lost fumbles. In his defense, both of his interceptions were in desperate situations — one on fourth down, one on third-and-25 while trailing in the fourth quarter — and, as always, he had his share of insane highlights. I believe his 55-yard touchdown to David Moore traveled 60-plus yards in the air. But the Bills corners limited (relatively speaking) the damage that DK Metcalf and especially Tyler Lockett did in the first half. Brian Schottenheimer made his own adjustments in the third quarter and Wilson hit a bunch of big completions to all three of his tight ends, but the Bills counter-punched with their own blitz schemes that left Seattle flummoxed. A few times Wilson was left picking himself off the turf while offensive linemen were pointing fingers at each other trying to figure out who was supposed to block whom. That also sounds like the end of Seattle’s other loss, against Arizona — fourth-quarter pass protection has been a definite issue. Wilson finished with 16 knockdowns (five sacks, 11 hits) — per the broadcast, that’s the most for any quarterback in a game this year. A.J. Klein probably had the biggest day of any Bills defender — two sacks, two other quarterback hits, a forced fumble that set up a Bills touchdown, and a pass defensed when he was somehow left covering Lockett down the sideline.

New York Giants 23 at Washington Football Team 20

Bryan Knowles: Two notes from this one. First, the comedy play of the year, as neither team can recover a fumble. Sums up the NFC East quite nicely.

Secondly, Kyle Allen just suffered a terrible ankle injury — bad enough for the ref to start signaling towards the sideline before the play had even really ended. Alex Smith is in once again.

Scott Spratt: Alex Smith is as deadly as ever with his downfield passing!

Washington was down 20-3 in this game and now are within three at 23-20.

Dave Bernreuther: Anyone else curious about what Terry McLaurin might look like with a good quarterback?

I love the Alex Smith story, but he’s still not actually that good, as much as we’d like him to be. And he just threw one to McLaurin in traffic that really had no business being caught … but was. And not only did McLaurin catch it, he somehow shook free and turned on the jets, running another 40 yards for a touchdown.

At 33 DYAR and a negative DVOA, McLaurin not exactly setting the world on fire, but every time I watch him, which is admittedly not that often, he flashes.

Denver Broncos 27 at Atlanta Falcons 34

Scott Spratt: The Falcons look to be ahead of schedule on their annual late-season winning streak that comes too late for them to make the playoffs. With Calvin Ridley out, Matt Ryan has thrown touchdowns to both Olamide Zaccheaus and Brandon Powell, and Atlanta leads the Broncos 17-3. They should have fired Dan Quinn in Week 3 (pick your year)!

Cale Clinton: Atlanta, you’re not going to blow this … right? The Falcons extended their lead to 21 on a Julio Jones touchdown pass and managed to hold Denver to a three-and-out on the following drive, but a run-run-incomplete pass-punt from the Falcons kept the door open. Denver answered with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to two scores. How did the Falcons answer? With a 24-yard pass to Hayden Hurst into Denver territory … then a sack, 1-yard run on second-and-16, incomplete pass, and a punt.

Blown leads are a two-way street, however. Most Atlanta implosions involve some pretty bombastic blunders on the Falcons’ part, and thus far this half they have managed to avoid anything truly terrible. Although with this kind of play calling, they may be cutting it close.

Scott Spratt: Potential Falcons collapse alert! Atlanta just went three-and-out, taking off just 1:08 of clock and giving Drew Lock about 40 seconds to try to score another touchdown to erase his team’s 34-27 deficit.

Scott Spratt: For added context, Atlanta was up 34-13 with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Is that right? It seems like a typo, but the Falcons are involved, so I can’t rule it out.

Scott Spratt: Well, the Falcons couldn’t finish off their collapse. The Broncos snapped a shotgun snap right into Tim Patrick in motion. The Falcons recovered the fumble and could take a knee.

I’m kind of surprised that doesn’t happen more than it does.

Chicago Bears 17 at Tennessee Titans 24

Cale Clinton: Not much exciting has happened in this first half, but we’ve got our second fake punt of the afternoon! Fourth-and-6 from Chicago’s own 47-yard-line, the long snap goes directly to David Montgomery, who hands it off to linebacker Barkevious Mingo for an 11-yard carry.

Andrew Potter: It says it all about this game that punt plays, fake or otherwise, have been the highlights. Pat O’Donnell and Ryan Allen are putting on a clinic, both averaging over 51 yards per punt. Meanwhile, with 11 yards from that one successful fake, Barkevious Mingo is Chicago’s leading rusher midway through the second quarter.

Cale Clinton: First touchdown of the afternoon is an absolute beauty by Tennessee, with Ryan Tannehill arcing a beautiful ball 40 yards into A.J. Brown’s hands. Brown was double-covered, barely able to dive for the goal line and score. Brown becomes the first Titans player with at least one receiving touchdown in five straight games since Kenny Britt in 2010, per the NFL Insight tab of this game.

It was by far the best play of the first half for an otherwise anemic Titans offense. It was only Tannehill’s fifth completion on 13 attempts. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry has a mere 25 yards on 11 carries thus far.

Andrew Potter: Man, the Bears offense is something else. They finally get something going on their first drive of the second half. On third-and-6 from Tennessee’s 36, Nick Foles finds Cordarrelle Patterson marginally short of the line to gain. All Patterson has to do is fall forward, or reach the ball about 6 inches, but he tucks it in tight and lands inches short. Chicago lines up to go for it, but left guard Arlington Hambright flinches early. Alright, fine, they line up to go for fourth-and-6 in plus territory … and Jimmy Graham false starts. Fourth-and-11 from the 41, now they punt. Just an inexcusable sequence. They’re still being shut out 10-0, five minutes into the second half.

Andrew Potter: What I said about the Bears a minute ago? It gets worse. The very next drive ends on a play on which, on third-and-13, they complete a pass for -4 yards, lose a fumble returned for a touchdown by Titans debutant Desmond King, AND get flagged for illegal motion, so even if it had worked it would have been negated.

Tennessee 10, Chicago -7

Dave Bernreuther: That 10- -7 description put a smile on my face, Andrew. If you run a -17 ALEX play on third down, you deserve a -7 on the scoreboard.

The best play I’ve seen the Bears make today, by far, was Dwayne Harris taking what I initially thought was a pretty huge risk in fielding a bouncing punt one handed at near-full speed, but which turned into a pretty impressive return.

More brilliant Bears football play: Third-and-a short 1 at the Titans’ 30, you’re the Bears, and you go spread … and your 8-foot tall quarterback throws it straight into a lineman.

Thankfully, they go for the fourth down, this time in heavy, and easily convert.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, don’t look now, but Chicago has discovered what the end zone looks like. I’m sure “Nick Foles throws the ball 52 times” (!) is not part of the game plan, but they have now scored 17 points in the fourth quarter as Jimmy Graham finds his way into the end zone with 1:04 left. It’s now just a 24-17 Titans lead, and we have an onside kick oncoming…

Bryan Knowles: … it didn’t work. Well, it briefly made things interesting, which is more than you can say about many Bears games.

Tom Gower: The two teams combined for 238 yards of offense in the first half. That may not sound too bad, but those 238 yards were crammed into a measly 14 possessions. The Titans had five three-and-outs, and they were winning 10-0. A.J. Brown had a 38-yard catch-and-(mostly)-run to set up their opening field goal, then a 17-yard catch and the 40-yard score to find the end zone on a great throw by Ryan Tannehill to beat both the man coverage on the switch route from the slot (twins left with Corey Davis, who was not good today after last week’s strong performance, the outside man) and the deep safety coming over. But overall, it wasn’t a strong performance by Tannehill or Derrick Henry, who struggled to find consistent running room most of the game (final line: 21 carries, 68 yards, including a crucial 26-yarder in the fourth quarter).

Fortunately for Tennessee, Chicago struggled at least as much on offense. Nick Foles had a solid first drive, completing four-of-four for 40 yards. But Allen Robinson ran a 4-yard route on third-and-5, they got stuffed on fourth-and-1, and the Bears wouldn’t snap the ball in Tennessee territory again until the opening drive of the second half. Their attempts to run the ball proved no more successful than Tennessee’s (David Montgomery would finish with 30 yards on 14 carries, and their only run longer than 6 yards was Barkevious Mingo gaining 11 on a fake punt) and Foles averaged less than 4 yards per attempt the rest of the first half after that “hot” start.

The second half brought more of the same. We’ve noted Tennessee’s defensive score when the Bears tried to screen on third-and-13. Before that, they had their longest and best non-scoring drive of the day. It covered 12 yards and took five plays. Kind of the opposite of last week’s performance against the Bengals, particularly the first three quarters, moving the ball efficiently but failing to turn yards into points. The Bears moved the ball a little better themselves, but once the turnover put them down 17-0, it was hard to see them coming back. Matt Nagy kicked the field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4 to make it 17-3, and once the Titans responded with their one good drive of the second half, featuring Henry’s aforementioned 26-yard run and two strong plays by Tannehill: a key third-down conversion to Anthony Firkser and throw to Jonnu Smith to beat the blitz before finding Smith for the score. An Anthony Miller fumble meant that when the Bears did cut it to 24-17, they would need an onside kick to tie, and they didn’t get it.

From the broader perspective, this felt like the Bears team with a quality defense and shaky offense we’d seen this year, against a Titans game from the Marcus Mariota era, maybe like a Mike Mularkey game. For most of the contest, the defense got off the field on third downs and got pressure in a way they didn’t in last week’s “if they don’t get pressure against this offensive line and shut down this offense…” game against Cincinnati’s backup linemen. I’ll need to see that again before declaring this to be a changed Titans defense, but the movable force won against the motionless object today, setting up Thursday’s crucial AFC South game.

Detroit Lions 20 at Minnesota Vikings 34

Bryan Knowles: Because of a COVID scare, Matthew Stafford basically didn’t practice this week; he was cleared before game time, so he’s coming in relatively cold.

So far, he’s 16-for-17 for 123 yards and a touchdown, just hitting Marvin Jones for a score. The Lions still trail 13-10, however — they keep giving the ball to Adrian Peterson against his old team, and he’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. They also missed a field goal, which would have made up the gap. Still, nice showing from Stafford, coming in in a difficult situation — if I remember correctly, this is his second false COVID positive so far, so I suppose this is getting old hat for him.

Bryan Knowles: Dalvin Cook scored a 70-yard touchdown. He may have been aided by the fact that Detroit had 10 men on the field.

Matt Patricia, what is it you say you do here, exactly?

Miami Dolphins 34 at Arizona Cardinals 31

Bryan Knowles: Miami’s defense has been fantastic for fantasy managers out there, especially the last couple of weeks.

Kyler Murray rolls out, met by Emmanual Ogbah. No problem, he thinks; he’s super-mobile and can just stutter-step around him. Not quite so much — Ogbah matches the move, gets the sack, and forces the fumble. Shaq Lawson scoops it up and, helped by some of his cornerbacks racing downfield to block, returns it to the house to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead early in the first. Tua Tagovailoa getting all the help he needs.

Scott Spratt: That’s another cool play on a turnover by not the ball-carrier this week, Bryan, although maybe not as cool as DK Metcalf’s tackle last time. After Shaq Lawson scooped the fumble that Emmanuel Ogbah forced on a sack of Kyler Murray, check out Byron Jones sprinting ahead and laying a final block to propel Lawson to the touchdown.

Scott Spratt: I don’t think this will stand up through replay, but Jalen Thompson made a nifty sideline interception of a ball Tua Tagovailoa was clearly trying to throw away. Feel free to sail those 30 yards out of bounds, Tua!

Scott Spratt: The interception was overturned and ruled an incompletion.

Bryan Knowles: “What a drive by Tua and the Dolphins!” the announcers say, on the same drive where Tua nearly threw an interception while trying to throw the ball out of bounds; on a drive that featured three Arizona penalties and a couple Miami ones.

It wasn’t always pretty, is what I’m saying, though Tagovailoa hit both Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe on great passes near the end of the drive. I credit Chan Gailey, the offensive coordinator, with that one — the Dolphins have started moving the pocket around and using misdirection to make the game a little easier for Tua. That was Tagovailoa’s best drive in the NFL to date, and the Dolphins have a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.

Vince Verhei: Cardinals are threatening to put this one away with the option game. Fourth-and-1 near midfield, Kyler Murray keeps the ball and scampers for 28 yards into field goal range. That sets up his own 12-yard touchdown on another option keeper that puts the Cards up 31-24. Murray is now up to 92 yards and a touchdown on the ground, plus 241 and three scores through the air. There’s still two minutes left in the third quarter.

Vince Verhei: The Cardinals also benefited from a DPI foul on Xavien Howard on that touchdown drive, which brings up this note:

Bryan Knowles: I criticized Tua a little bit earlier today, so let me now give praise where praise is due — Tagovailoa’s best drive in the pros just tied the game at 31. He made some great plays with his legs to extend the drive, sometimes rushing, sometimes just buying more time in the pocket, and finally found Mack Hollins for the score. That drive is why the Dolphins drafted him. Very, very nice.

Vince Verhei: With the score tied at 31-all midway through the fourth quarter, the Cardinals twice went for it on fourth-and-1 on their last drive. The first was successful on a Murray keeper on a speed option (he’s over 100 yards now), but the second was stuffed on a handoff to Chase Edmonds. Dolphins take over with a chance to take the lead.

Bryan Knowles: You make the call!

The Dolphins face fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 32. It is a tie game, with 3:35 left. Do you go for the field goal to take the lead? Or do you attempt to convert, knowing that a failure gives the Cardinals a chance to keep running down your throat?

Vince Verhei: Dolphins quickly get their own fourth-and-1 decision, but they pull Tagovailoa and company off the field and send Jason Sanders out instead. Sanders hits from 50 yards and the Dolphins take a 34-31 lead with 3:30 to go, but man, I hate that call.

Bryan Knowles: And now it’s the Cardinals’ turn to turn to a field goal on fourth-and-1 … and they’re short on a 49-yarder. Oh my goodness.

Vince Verhei: Jeez, now Kliff Kingsbury makes almost the exact same decision, kicking a 49-yard field goal on fourth-and-1. This is just going to give Tagovailoa two minutes to get a field goal and beat you.

Or not, because Zane Gonzalez’s kick is short. Oops. Miami’s ball with a three-point lead, but Cardinals still have two timeouts left.

Cale Clinton: If the Cardinals don’t make it back onto the field, Kyler Murray will be the seventh player ever to throw for 250-plus yards and rush for 100-plus yards in a single game since the 1970 NFL merger. He joins Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton (three times), Colin Kaepernick, Marcus Mariota, Russell Wilson, and Michael Vick.

He is 17 yards shy of joining Russ as the only players to finish with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards.

Aaron Schatz: Kingsbury’s decision to kick the field goal was a horrifically bad decision. Not because they missed the field goal, but because even if you hit the field goal (which is a hard field goal to get at that distance!) you’re giving Miami plenty of time to come back and score its own game-winning field goal.

Aaron Schatz: This is mind-blowing but ESPN’s model actually had the field goal as the better decision for Arizona. I’m shocked. How can the two models be different by almost 30%?

Bryan Knowles: ESPN’s win probabilities have to be wrong. They just have to be — they’re the same ones saying the Falcons keep coming back from 98% win probabilities to lose things. Something is fishy with their models.

Vince Verhei: Tagovailoa converts a third-and-1 with a quarterback sneak, and that does it. Miami wins, the AFC East goes 2-0 against the NFC West today, and the Seahawks are still in first place.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at Dallas Cowboys 19

Dave Bernreuther: I’m wondering if the Cowboys even care to win this game. I can’t think of any other reason not to play a bit of David strategy when somehow leading the game in the second quarter, facing fourth-and-inches (and it really did look like merely 1 or 2), with a quarterback starting his first game that happens to be 230-plus pounds.

(Boom goes the punt, and TMQ writes the words “game over” in his notebook, if he hadn’t already about two weeks ago.)

Naturally, on the next possession, the Steelers get to about that same spot on the field, properly go for it on fourth down, and are stopped. So the Cowboys are right back where they started, with several minutes removed from the clock. Which ultimately works to their advantage. Maybe that was the plan all along!

Aaron Schatz: Outstanding early game for rookie Dallas defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. Just sliced in to drive Benny Snell into a different gap, forcing a failure on fourth-and-1. He has also had a couple of nice tackles today. This Pittsburgh offense is not cooperating with the idea of a Pittsburgh blowout so far.

Bryan Knowles: No surprises here, as the 13.5-point favorites are rolling. The Steelers seem shocked that Garrett Gilbert can run, as he has picked up quite a few yards with his legs so far. And CeeDee Lamb was just left wide-open, Gilbert finding him in the end zone to give the Cowboys a 10-0 lead. But when you have a mismatch of this caliber, early leads shouldn’t be too surprising…

… wait, which team was the two-score favorites?

Cale Clinton: Hey, remember the AAF? Orlando Apollos alum/current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Garrett Gilbert is going to make you remember the AAF! Gilbert broke a 25-drive touchdown drought for the Cowboys with a strike to CeeDee Lamb.

Aaron Schatz: Garrett Gilbert is doing a great job of getting the ball out quickly before the Pittsburgh pass rush gets there and the Steelers just can’t seem to cover the Dallas receivers. First a big gain to Dalton Schultz and then Gilbert finds a wide-open CeeDee Lamb in the end zone for a surprising 10-0 Dallas lead.

Dave Bernreuther: Garrett Gilbert is no superstar, but he looks clearly better than either of the previous two Dallas quarterbacks so far, and that’s without even accounting for the quality of the opponent. On the drive after the turnover on downs, he has so far taken off for two long-ish first-down scrambles, plus thrown a nice one to Dalton Schultz for another first down, and while I’m not yet ready to call him the next Jake Luton (heh), he has generally looked the part of semi-competent NFL quarterback.

As I type that, he badly misses Michael Gallup on a throw over the middle that nearly got the receiver killed, of course. Me and my early jinxes…

Nevermind! On a play where we were convinced at least two Cowboys false started, Gilbert left the pocket appropriately, calmly kept his head up, and hit CeeDee Lamb on the move in the end zone. No flags. And the Cowboys, just as we ALL surely expected, now lead the 7-0 Steelers by two scores.

Scott Spratt: You probably don’t need a reminder with the relentless NFC East coverage, but a Cowboys upset win today would put them within half a game of the division-leading Eagles at 3-6.

Bryan Knowles: This is a good time to mention that the Steelers are 9-18 against the spread as double-digit favorites since Mike Tomlin took over, yes?

They’re 22-5 straight up, but they do have a tendency to make this look more difficult than it needs to be…

Scott Spratt: Wow, the Cowboys nearly pulled off a Music City Miracle return. C.J. Goodwin pretended to pull a hamstring to help shed defenders on his left side of the field, and then the punt fielder Wilson pitched him a lateral which he returned most of the length of the field. Goodwin failed to score because he couldn’t make the same hurdle that Chuck Clark did earlier, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because of a late block-in-the-back penalty. But it was still a really cool play for the Cowboys.

Vince Verhei: The dots on Dallas’ throwback punt return are fun:

Bryan Knowles: That failed hurdle on the kickoff return bailed out the Steelers. Instead of being a 17-0 Cowboys lead, Dallas had to settle for a field goal, and Pittsburgh finally woke up, more than doubling their yards for the game with a 75-yard drive — James Washington hauling in the touchdown pass to cut this back to a 13-7 … excuse me, 13-6 lead, as the extra point is missed.

However, the bigger story is that Ben Roethlisberger hurt his knee on the drive. He stayed in to throw the touchdown pass, but immediately limped off to the locker room with 1:10 left in the half. We’ve seen this movie too much before to assume Roethlisberger is out, but THAT’S a big pending story.

Scott Spratt: CeeDee Lamb looked like he threw the ball at Minkah Fitzpatrick on that fumble!

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers turn that fumble into a field goal — on their second try, as their first miss was called back by a false start penalty — so it’s 13-9, Cowboys, as we enter the half.

For the record, the Steelers last covered a double-digit spread in 2016, over the Jets. Since then, they’ve failed to cover against:

  • DeShone Kizer’s Browns
  • Jacoby Brissett’s Colts
  • Brett Hundley’s Packers
  • Derek Carr’s Raiders
  • Jeff Driskel’s Bengals
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Dolphins

Garrett Gilbert and company in good position to add to that list, especially if Big Ben can’t come back.

Aaron Schatz: It looks like Roethlisberger will return for the second half.

Aaron Schatz: The Steelers’ pass rush isn’t getting home at all today. Gilbert is getting the ball out quickly and the Steelers, who lead the league in adjusted sack rate, have only one sack through 40 minutes.

Scott Spratt: It isn’t just the pass rush, either, Aaron. I normally give a defense a pass for whatever stats they allow to the weird and exceptional Ravens, but the No. 2 run defense by DVOA Steelers allowed 265 yards on 5.6 yards per carry to them last week and have allowed 113 yards on 4.9 yards per carry to the Cowboys with four minutes left in the third quarter this week.

Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys are trying to hang on by the skin of their teeth, taking six minutes and adding a field goal as they try to drain as much as this game as possible. That may not end up mattering against a team that can race down the field like Pittsburgh, as the JuJu Smith-Schuster show starts taking over — a pair of 20-yard receptions sets up a long, 30-yard touchdown pass to bring the Steelers back within three … wait, no, Chris Boswell missed ANOTHER extra point, and it’s still 19-15, Cowboys. Boswell with a game to forget so far.

Aaron Schatz: Gilbert just threw it up for grabs while under heavy pressure and Minkah Fitzpatrick grabbed it to keep the Cowboys from even kicking a field goal to go up 7. However, Fitzpatrick tried to return it instead of going down for a touchback, a mistake, and a block in the back penalty further brings the return back so the Steelers will take over on the 1.

Scott Spratt: Wow, Ben Roethlisberger just got bailed out big time after a strip-sack turned the ball over to the Cowboys. Linebacker Jaylon Smith was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that lets the Steelers maintain possession, still down 19-15 with less than nine minutes left in the game.

Aaron Schatz: The Steelers just got bailed out again when Roethlisberger overthrew Chase Claypool on third-and-10 and Jaylon Smith came down with his hand on Roethlisberger’s face mask for a 15-yard roughing penalty.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers have come all the way back with a touchdown, but I wonder if they’ve scored too soon — there’s 2:14 left in the game, and they only lead by five. They could have at least run the ball once or twice to drain some more clock…

Bryan Knowles: Dallas couldn’t move anywhere with the ball, so the Steelers got the ball back in field goal range. And yet, they tried for it on fourth-and-1, and were stopped on a slow-developing wide play. So, instead of sitting on an eight-point lead, it’s still a five-point game and Dallas has the ball back…

Scott Spratt: The Cowboys may not have enough time to make him pay, but Chase Claypool did the opposite of Todd Gurley: he slid down to stay in bounds but did so a yard shy of a first down that would have given the Steelers the win. After a fourth-down stop, the Cowboys have 30 seconds to try to drive the field.

Bryan Knowles: They always make it look so difficult, but the Steelers managed to just squeeze out a victory as double-digit favorites once more; Garrett Gilbert and the Orlando Apollos had a shot in the end zone at the end, but it was swatted to the ground. 24-19 Steelers, and they’re still 8-0.

And, for what it’s worth, for the first time this season, a team has been eliminated from a playoff position. The New York Jets can not catch the Steelers, and thus can’t win the top seed in the AFC. This has been a highly relevant and important revelation.

Las Vegas Raiders 31 at Los Angeles Chargers 26

Cale Clinton: Bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance for this Chargers offense as we head into halftime. The Chargers’ two touchdown drives have mostly been indicative of what we have seen from this team through Justin Herbert’s six starts. Herbert is a combined 8-for-11 for 127 yards and a touchdown on those two drives. This team, however, also has two punts and a missed field goal to its name, and those drives looked less than stellar. The Chargers have allowed some costly sacks, and Herbert failed to connect in the passing game early in the first quarter. Had it not been for the strip-sack of Derek Carr to set up the last-minute field goal to put L.A. up before the half, I’d say they were lucky to go into halftime tied.

The run game has proven extremely effective for Las Vegas in the first half. Josh Jacobs is averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 44 yards and a score, while Devontae Booker has a 23-yard touchdown run to his name. Derek Carr has been the source of pain for this Raiders offense. Despite his innocent 6-for-10 for 44 yards, those four incompletions have directly led to two punts for Las Vegas. The strip-sack on Carr with 12 seconds left in the half allowed the Chargers to take a 17-14 lead heading into halftime.

Side note: anyone have any strong opinions on the Chargers’ all-navy uniforms? While I can’t really tell whether they look good or not, I do know one thing: all I can think of when I look at these uniforms is how good LaDainian Tomlinson and his tinted visor would look in this uniform. I guess anything that makes me think of Chargers-era L.T. is a good thing, so we’ll let ’em slide.

Bryan Knowles: The all-navy is my least favorite of the Chargers’ new looks, but they’re still pretty darn sharp, and they probably bring back fond memories of the 1990s Chargers for fans of that era, so I’ll give them a pass.

Andrew Potter: I was going to start off with a comment about those. They’re close to perfect, but they need the blue broken up in the bottom half somewhere. The solid blue makes them look like onesies.

Tom Gower: They don’t look like the Chargers. I had to stop and think who the Raiders were playing when my eyes first saw that game.

That’s even beyond the point that the team that has the powder blues should always wear the powder blues.

Scott Spratt: The Derek Carr-to-Nelson Agholor connection has been incredible this year.

I don’t know who’s playing more against type, Carr the former checkdown artist or Agholor the former slot receiver.

Bryan Knowles: We decided “Sorry, Mike” was the thing we were going to say when Nelson Agholor made a play, right? Carr just hit him in stride for a 45-yard score to give the Raiders the lead again, 21-17. “Derek Carr completes a long pass, which is caught by Nelson Agholor” is a sentence that would have made zero sense two years ago.

Dave Bernreuther: If you can’t tell if they look good, they don’t look good.

Dark unitards all look terrible to me, and I didn’t like them even in the uniform release when they were popular, but these look even worse than I expected. The dark-dark blue with the bright white helmets just clash too much. If they were allowed to have different helmets and went back to the Brees-era navy ones, it’d work a lot better.

On the flip side, I have always liked the Raiders throwbacks with the silver numbers. They should just use these full-time.

As for the game itself, I’m with you about the Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. At times the Chargers look like a dominant team that should be winning easily; at other times, like on the backwards pass that Herbert just threw that luckily ended up out of bounds, they look like a 2-5 team.

Vince Verhei: Big fan of the Chargers’ navy blues. Also love the Raiders’ white jerseys with the silver numbers. This game is easy on the eyes.

Cale Clinton: In a classic Audibles jinx, Derek Carr makes my first-half criticisms moot by absolutely lighting up the start of the second half. The 45-yard touchdown pass to Agholor was right in the basket, but he managed to outdo it on the next drive with a beautiful 53-yard dime to Hunter Renfrow on third-and-4. He immediately followed that up with a leaping 12-yard scramble for a first down, then capped off the drive with a touchdown to Darren Waller. Touché, Derek Carr.

Bryan Knowles: This is not the sort of play you want to design, even though it worked.

Touchdown, for sure, but Justin Herbert ends up on the ground in pain. Tyrod Taylor is warming up. He comes into the game, and fails to pick up the two-point conversion, so it’s still a 28-26 Raiders lead, but all eyes are on Herbert now.

Vince Verhei: Chargers are close to tying this game. Justin Herbert rolls to his right then delivers a throwback screen to Gabe Nabers. That makes it 28-26. They’re obviously going to go for two and the tie … but Herbert is shaken up and has to leave. Doesn’t look serious, but Tyrod Taylor is on for the two-point try. He also moves to his right, then back to his left, where he breaks three tackles and decides to go for the end zone, but he is slammed at the 2-yard line and goes down hard. Raiders still up by two with nine minutes to go.

Aaron Schatz: We discovered how the Chargers were going to blow this game. The answer is “muffed punt.”

Bryan Knowles: The Chargers’ time management on their last drive deserves to be slammed — they get the ball back with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter, needing a touchdown to take the lead, and they slooooowly creep down the field. They seemed determined to score with the clock at 0:00, or lose.

It’s the former, though, as Herbert throws a fade to Donald Parham to win the game, and the Chargers’ curse has clearly been defeated…

… except the ball just slipped out and hit the ground. Oh, Chargers…

Scott Spratt: I thought for sure the Chargers were going to Charger this when, with six seconds left, Mike Williams came this close to snagging the game-winner (and then getting hurt).

But then Justin Herbert made the same fade throw to Donald Parham with one second left and secured the Chargers’ come-from-behind victory!

Scott Spratt: Just kidding! Parham didn’t maintain possession, and so the Chargers did in fact Charger this game.

Cale Clinton: … aaaaaaand they reversed it. Ball moved in Parham’s hands, hit the ground, incomplete pass. Game over.

Vince Verhei:LOL Chargers.

Scott Spratt:

Cale Clinton: The Chargers have now lost NINE straight games against AFC West opponents. Their last win in-division came in Week 17 of 2018.

Man, one day this franchise is (hopefully) going to figure out how to win one-score games and they’re going to be so much fun.

New Orleans Saints 38 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3

Scott Spratt: Jamel Dean may have blown the coverage on Drew Brees’ touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith, but I feel like “err on the side of covering Alvin Kamara” is a pretty good strategy.

Scott Spratt: To Cris Collinsworth’s point about the Saints’ pass protection, their offensive line has the seventh-best adjusted sack rate on offense (4.4%) while the Bucs have the third-best adjusted sack rate on defense (9.5%). So far, advantage Saints. I’m not sure Brees has been touched.

Scott Spratt: I guess if the Bucs can’t get to Brees, they’ll have to get to his receivers. They did that by stripping Jared Cook, who was fighting for extra yardage to try to get the Saints a second touchdown in the red zone. That turnover is massive for the Bucs’ chances in this one.

Aaron Schatz: One thing about defense is that it is harder to cover a weakness than it is on offense. The offense will find your weakness and pick on it all game long. And in other news, I would like to say hello to Tampa Bay cornerback Jamel Dean, who just gave up another touchdown, this time to Emmanuel Sanders, after he was the guy who bit hard on the fake screen on New Orleans’ first touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith.

Bryan Knowles: I will be very, very interested to see who ends up first in DVOA this week, with the Buccaneers in the process of laying an egg (plenty of time left, mind you), and the Steelers flopping around against Dallas. This is really beginning to feel like one of those years were there aren’t any great teams.

Aaron Schatz: Tampa Bay was so far ahead that they probably stay in first place even after this. Which will certainly be tough to explain. But last time I worried about why our numbers had Tampa Bay so high, they went and blew out Green Bay.

Bryan Knowles: You’re probably right, and that’s probably fair — one bad game does not a season make — but it looks like their two worst games of the season will both come against New Orleans. Normally, that’d make me think that oh, their divisional rival just has their number, but this has been a very different game than their first matchup. Back in Week 1, it was the Saints’ defense disrupting and picking off Brady bailing out a frankly mediocre offensive performance. Tonight’s performance, at least so far, is just a wee bit better than “mediocre.”

Aaron Schatz: Unreal. Drew Brees fumbles on the first drive of the first half. The Bucs get the ball down to the Saints’ 1-yard line. They show a graphic. Every single goal-to-go for the Bucs has resulted in a touchdown this year. Every single one against the Saints defense has resulted in a touchdown. Does this one? Nope, it doesn’t. Incomplete fade to Mike Evans, Ronald Jones stuffed, incomplete to Rob Gronkowski over the middle, then another fade to Evans that drops incomplete. Unreal.

Scott Spratt: I think I may count out Touchdown Tom.

Aaron Schatz: One more remarkable stat. This is the first time in his entire career that Tom Brady has been swept in the regular season by a division rival.

Aaron Schatz: One last addendum: It looks like Tampa Bay was not, in fact, so far ahead that they will remain No. 1 in DVOA this week.


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