NFL Stat Oddity: Week 12

For as good as the Thanksgiving slate was, the Sunday schedule in Week 12 was never going to be strong enough to top it. But who could have imagined the Buccaneers (5-6), Rams (3-8), and Packers (4-8) would fall so far in the NFC?

  • Instead of getting a rematch of 54-51, or the great shootout Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford had in 2019, we got the Chiefs (hopefully) burning bad plays in the red zone as they toyed with the Bryce Perkins-led Rams.
  • If Jacoby Brissett never starts another game in Cleveland, good on him for ending it with a big comeback and overtime win against Tampa Bay, a team that is clearly not “back.”
  • Did we see the end of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay on Sunday night? Injuries and a 4-8 record make it hard to justify putting him on the field again this season.

Since the 1970 merger, just 21.0% of NFL teams with 12+ wins have declined to a losing record the following season.

Now, the terrible NFC South may still save Tampa’s ass from a losing record this year, but if not, we’ll see history made as three 12-win teams in one conference will have declined to a losing record for the first time.

It would be only the third time it happened to three teams in the whole league in the same year.

1998 to 1999: Broncos (John Elway retired and Terrell Davis injured after four games), Falcons (Jamal Anderson injured after two games), and 49ers (Steve Young injured early).

2015 to 2016: Panthers, Bengals, and Cardinals – three teams who greatly overachieved in what became the peak of the Rivera/Newton, Lewis/Dalton, and Arians/Palmer eras.

So, there is something to watch for. As for Week 12, we had nine games with a comeback opportunity but three of them were on Thursday. I imagine Monday night (Steelers-Colts) will be a 10th, but we’ll see.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Packers at Eagles: All Things Must Pass

This is not the time for me to write the eulogy to Aaron Rodgers’ career, but there is a non-zero chance last night was the last time we see him play for Green Bay. When you start mixing a broken thumb with an oblique injury and a 4-8 record for a quarterback who turns 39 this Friday, you might be talking about the end of the road.

Rodgers left the game late in the third quarter in obvious pain and did not return. Jordan Love played well in his quarter of action, but it was too little too late after a wild start to this one in Philadelphia. Green Bay’s first five drives ended in three touchdowns and two interceptions.

But first, I’ll compliment the Eagles for scoring a season-high 40 points and showing some of that dynamic, explosive talent they’ll need if they are going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and win it all.

Jalen Hurts became the first quarterback ever to rush and pass for at least 125 yards in a half. He finished with 157 yards on the ground, so two of the best rushing quarterback performances ever have come against Rodgers’ defense in games where his Packers scored at least 30 and the opponent scored at least 40. You remember 2012 Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs, right?

That kind of fits a nice bow on the Rodgers’ era in Green Bay, even if Love was the one wrapping this game up after entering to a 37-23 deficit. Philadelphia finished with 363 rushing yards.

What more can you say right now? The Packers are 1-7 in their last eight games. They have not won a game in regulation since beating Tampa Bay, another team on the downslide, 14-12 in Week 3.

No matter if Rodgers returns or if the Love era starts next week, this team is going to go through a rough period. We are seeing it in New Orleans after Drew Brees and Sean Payton departed. We are seeing it in Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger. We’ve seen it in Denver after Peyton Manning retired.

How long that rough period lasts is up to Matt LaFleur and getting this Love to Christian Watson connection going so that it could one day look something like Rodgers to Davante Adams did. Maybe it never will, but that’s just life in the NFL. All good things come to an end, and Green Bay fans were more fortunate than most to enjoy a Rodgers era right after Brett Favre took his last snap with the team in the 2007 season.

All things must pass.

Bengals at Titans: Take Away the Sacks and Turnovers, and Tennessee Still Loses

This game really floored me, because on the surface, Cincinnati’s 20-16 win was not unlike its 19-16 win in the playoffs last year. Except the two games really could not be more different, and I don’t just mean because neither Ja’Marr Chase (hip) nor A.J. Brown (foolish trade by Titans) were there for these offenses.

Cincinnati’s whole Super Bowl run was really a case study on mitigating sacks with interceptions. The Bengals took nine sacks in Tennessee, but they still won because Ryan Tannehill threw three costly interceptions.

But on Sunday, each quarterback took one sack, and there were zero turnovers in the game. Oh, Derrick Henry coughed up the ball on a 69-yard catch and run, but he was lucky that Treylon Burks was there for the recovery and that unique “other” offensive touchdown. What a way to score your first NFL touchdown.

But the stunning part is that this game was essentially the No. 1 run defense (Titans) against a bottom-ranked run defense missing its best back (Joe Mixon), and the Titans had King Henry. And yet, Samaje Perine outrushed Henry 58-38 in yards.

I never saw that coming. But the backs were big for the Bengals, especially in the receiving game as Perine usually is productive for this team on the road when they seek a big win. For 1.5 quarters, this was your typical matchup of a physical defense shutting down a one-dimensional passing offense. But one little throw to Perine that he took 32 yards changed everything in the second quarter, and it led to the Bengals’ first touchdown to tie the game at 10 before halftime.

That last half of the second quarter was a really pivotal sequence, because the Bengals got that touchdown, and the Titans botched a 35-yard field goal with their new kicker.

Points were hard to come by, but Joe Burrow got a great catch from Trenton Irwin to convert a third-and-12 with the game tied at 13 in the fourth quarter. One play later, Tee Higgins caught a 27-yard touchdown.

The Titans looked like they could answer, but a long drive stalled out and they settled for a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left. A few more completions to Higgins and timely runs led the Bengals to another field goal, which was going to leave Tannehill about two minutes left for a game-tying touchdown opportunity.

But the Titans took a horrible penalty on the field goal for unnecessary roughness against the long snapper. It’s the right call by the rule, but it’s just such an unnecessary, foolish play by Tennessee. With the Titans out of timeouts and the automatic first down, the game was over. The long snapper took one win away from the Bengals in Week 1 against Pittsburgh, but it came through to seal one here.

Plenty of season left, but with both teams at 7-4, you can see a scenario where this is the No. 5/No. 4 or No. 6/No. 3 wild card matchup. That would not be a good thing for the Titans based on these last two matchups.

Ravens at Jaguars: The Streak Is Over

Thanks a lot, Ravens. Your historic ability to gain two-score leads and still lose the game has led to the end of one of my favorite streaks to point out.

The Jaguars had lost 41 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points, but that streak is no more after the 28-27 win that is the signature moment of Trevor Lawrence’s young career.

Time will tell if it’s the turning point for him, or if it’s just a case of getting bailed out against a team that has been blowing games like this throughout the season. But the Ravens were again culpable on multiple sides of the ball. It was the first time all season they did not lead by double digits, but they still led 19-10 in the fourth quarter. I also thought at the moment there was an argument for going for two to make it 20-10, but oh well.

The defense could have nipped things in the bud with a fourth-and-8 stop at 8:44, but they didn’t as Zay Jones caught a 27-yard pass. The special teams had a 6-yard kick return after Jacksonville’s touchdown cut it to 19-17, and then Gus Edwards coughed up the ball on the first snap from scrimmage. The Jaguars couldn’t get a first down but still took the lead on a field goal.

To his credit, Lamar Jackson made the big throw to DeSean Jackson for a 62-yard gain that set up a touchdown and two-point conversion for a 27-20 lead with 2:02 left. That should have been enough as 21 is the magic number to beat Jacksonville, but not on this Sunday.

Right after the two-minute warning, things easily could have ended after Calais Campbell strip-sacked Lawrence, but the offense was able to recover the ball. The Jags overcame a third-and-21 situation from that, another fourth down thanks to Marvin Jones, then another big play (29 yards) by Zay Jones to set up first-and-goal at the 10.

Lawrence went back to Marvin Jones in the end zone, and the ruling on the field was a touchdown. The review said call stands, not confirmed. Honestly, I did not see it as a touchdown. It looked like even if Jones’ shin got down in bounds, it happened simultaneously with his leg touching out of bounds, so it should have been incomplete with 14 seconds left to bring up second down. That was a huge gift.

The Jaguars decided to go for two, which isn’t that surprising under Doug Pederson. With such little time left and Jacksonville’s underdog, nothing to really play for status, I think it was a perfect call. Lawrence threw a great ball to Jones, and the Jaguars led 28-27.

Teams are now 14-of-29 when trying the go-ahead two-point conversion in the final 2:00 since 1994. Sunday was the first time we witnessed two successes in the same day.

But the short kickoff nearly backfired for Jacksonville as Lamar got the ball at his own 39 with 10 seconds left and two timeouts. We know Justin Tucker can hit from 66 yards with the help of a crossbar bounce, so the Ravens really just needed a solid 15-yard gain to give him a shot. I thought Jackson hesitated too long to get the ball to a slower tight end, who went for getting out of bounds instead of having the team use their timeout after he went down. It gained 12 yards, but something better could have been done there.

Still, Tucker would get a chance to further cement his GOAT status. He already has the record at 66, now he could hit from 67 yards and deliver another epic win. So often we see these really long attempts get blocked or they are nowhere even close. But Tucker was actually straight on with his kick. It just didn’t have enough to get over the crossbar and fell short. A few more yards would have done the trick for Baltimore.

But this Baltimore team just seems destined to keep coming up short.

Buccaneers at Browns: We’re Only Going to Score 17 Points?

I had a hard time picking this week’s upset special, because I couldn’t use any Thanksgiving game or Monday night’s Steelers-Colts game, and I was already doing a preview on Bengals-Titans. I sure as hell wasn’t picking the Saints, Rams, or Texans to beat the 49ers, Chiefs, or Dolphins.

I landed on Bucs-Browns, because I knew this Tampa team is still a fraud trying to make the playoffs solely because of the division it plays in, and the Browns are better than their record, and Jacoby Brissett would want to show out in his final start before Predator is back on the field next week.

In the end, it all worked out, but it sure didn’t look like we’d get to this point.

Not when Amari Cooper flat out dropped a fourth-and-9 ball while the Browns trailed 17-10 in the fourth quarter.

Not when Brissett needed to go 95 yards and only got 18 yards there after taking a third-down sack with under three minutes left.

But as has been the case many times in his career, Tom Brady stunk in the four-minute offense and couldn’t close the game. His incompletion on a second down saved the Browns time, and then Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for a third-down sack to force another three-and-out.

Brissett only had to drive 46 yards for the tie after the punt, but he had help this time. Nick Chubb still has not been held under 80 rushing yards in the same season three weeks in a row since the first three games of his career when he was a backup. He made up for last week’s career-worst game with 116 yards and a touchdown in this one. But his 28-yard run after the two-minute warning got the team believing.

However, it was soon fourth-and-10. Brissett threw to the back middle of the end zone for David Njoku, and the tight end cemented his late bloomer year with a one-handed catch for a brilliant touchdown with 32 seconds left.

On a day where multiple teams were going for two in this spot, I can’t say I disagreed with the extra point. Not when you’re playing the LOAT and he can just chuck up some awful pass to Mike Evans and get 30 yards on a defensive pass interference penalty.

But with this game, we further saw the impact of the coaching deterioration around Brady. The downgrade from Bill Belichick to Bruce Arians showed up the last two years, and this year’s downgrade to Todd Bowles has been even more glaring.

Tampa Bay had all three timeouts and 32 seconds. That’s an eternity in today’s NFL to set up a field goal. But the Bucs took their time after a 1-yard completion and ended up with a 26-yard completion to Julio Jones out to midfield with only 8 seconds left. Terrible clock management. Surprisingly, Brady’s Hail Mary attempt was not caught, which is about the only lucky style of win he has never pulled off in his career.

In overtime, it looked like Tampa was going to get points on the first drive, but an illegal hands to the face call set up a third-and-14. Brady threw incomplete after pressure from Garrett again. After the Browns went three-and-out, you again expected the game-winning field goal from Tampa, but Garrett was on one Sunday and sacked Brady on another third down.

At this point, a tie comes to mind, but Amari Cooper was wide open on a blown coverage for a 45-yard gain to the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Chubb was in the end zone for the 23-17 win with 19 seconds left.

If this is it for Brissett, he did a better job than I expected he would in Cleveland. He is No. 7 in QBR (61.2) through Week 12. So, you can understand the appeal of Deshaun Watson in this already very functional offense if he can get back to the player he was and give the team a bigger edge in these close games that were not Brissett’s specialty, Sunday withstanding.

Of course, everything about the contract just feels gross, but this is what the Browns signed up for. It could be a spectacle in Houston next week, assuming anyone cares to show up to watch the worst team in the league host the NFL’s version of Bill Cosby.

Raiders at Seahawks: Josh Jacobs Is Reaching Henry/Chubb Territory

Josh Jacobs was one of those first-round running backs who really had no business going in the first round. Guys like Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders, and David Montgomery were sitting there in rounds 2-4 of the same 2019 draft.

But I must admit, Jacobs is taking off in Josh McDaniels’ offense, which is good news since it wiped out any effectiveness Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow had with Derek Carr. Jacobs is getting into that Nick Chubb/Derrick Henry territory with the season he’s having.

Jacobs put the team on his back again and amassed 303 yards from scrimmage in Seattle, including an 86-yard game-winning touchdown run in overtime. Jacobs rushed for 229 yards, the third time this season he set his career high in rushing in a game. He previously had 144 yards against Denver and 154 yards against Kansas City.

Remember when Seattle’s run defense looked like trash when the team was 2-3? Well, we are back to that point. The Munich game against Tampa Bay was a huge red flag things weren’t right again, and now the Raiders and Jacobs may have just damaged Seattle’s playoff chances. The Seattle running game was also MIA for the second game in a row.

Seattle’s offense was largely a dud down the stretch, scoring once on the final five drives, and going three-and-out in overtime before Jacobs’ big run. I hate giving credit to Carr for a handoff game-winning drive, but he earned his stripes this week with the 75-yard touchdown drive to force overtime. He even did it without a single penalty on the Seahawks this time.

The Raiders could be so much better than their 4-7 record, but those blown 17-point leads are going to haunt them. The Seahawks are now the No. 8 seed in the NFC, and they are 1-3 at game-winning drive opportunities.

This one will sting the most.

Rams at Chiefs: Red Zone Practice?

God damn, that Vegas is too good. Even with the Rams starting an unknown commodity in quarterback Bryce Perkins, they still were all over the spread (fluctuated between 15.5 to 16.5 before kickoff) in a 26-10 final, and they were right in the ballpark on Perkins’ rushing yards (44 yards on an over/under of 42.5).

But Perkins only passed for 100 yards, so maybe the passing game still had too high of expectations without Cooper Kupp or Allen Robinson available.

But this was sort of a game because of how bad the Chiefs were in the red zone. The “Chiefs are so creative in the red zone” announcer line is becoming the new “Antonio Gates played basketball” or “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard” line for Kansas City games.

Yes, we know they do some tricky stuff down there. But I swear before playoff time I want to check their home-road splits on red zone performance since 2018, because it sure feels like they try way too much cutesy shit at home and it doesn’t work out enough.

The Chiefs were 1-for-6 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone in this game, which was the only thing keeping the spread alive and the Rams within 10 points in the fourth quarter. Patrick Mahomes became the fourth quarterback ever to pass for over 320 yards in six straight games, but he threw a no-look pass that was intercepted in the end zone for his biggest blunder of the day.

But the Rams turned it over two plays later, and the Chiefs made that count for another field goal. They did the same thing on Perkins’ second pick to get to 26-10 and a cover after the Rams couldn’t get far on their final drive. The Rams couldn’t connect on a play longer than 16 yards.

The Chiefs have been great in the red zone this season, but Sunday was a disaster there. Let’s hope they learned some things about plays that don’t work when they take on the Bengals next week.

Chargers at Cardinals: Two-or-Die Take Two

This felt like a high-scoring, close game where the studs would show up, and it was exactly that. DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, James Conner, and Austin Ekeler all scored touchdowns.

But after the Cardinals took a 24-17 lead three plays into the fourth quarter, both defenses were taking control of the game. We saw six punts in a row, and it felt like Arizona had a great chance to win after sacking Justin Herbert and forcing a punt with 2:19 left.

Four-minute offense is the best way to close out a game, yet we see it butchered so often in this league. No one is asking for another score. Just get a first down or two to end the game. I’ll give Arizona credit for calling a pass on second down, but Kyler Murray took a bad sack and that all but derailed the drive.

Herbert had nearly a full two minutes, and he only needed to drive 38 yards after a good punt return and penalty on the Cardinals. Ekeler is incredible in space, and he made the most of those little catches on the drive to eventually break the plane and score with 15 seconds left.

Like Jacksonville earlier in the day against Baltimore, the Chargers went for two and the lead and likely win. I agreed with both calls on this day. The Chargers ran an excellent play with Allen drawing the defenders and leaving Gerald Everett wide open on the slant for the 25-24 lead.

The Cardinals were in a tough spot, but I’m not sure what Murray thought he was throwing on the last play, which fell incomplete at midfield. It was his first game all season with Marquise Brown and Hopkins together, and he still didn’t throw for 200 yards.

Herbert found a way to get it done after taking four sacks and leading the team in rushing with 38 yards. It is his 10th fourth-quarter comeback win, which joins Russell Wilson (10) and Derek Carr (12) as the only quarterbacks with at least 10 of those in their first three seasons.

Bears at Jets: Pour One Out for Zach Wilson?

There was something very amusing about watching Mike White and Trevor Siemian have a passing duel in the rain that you just suspect Justin Fields and Zach Wilson wouldn’t have matched.

But Siemian, after 116 yards in an impressive first quarter, disappointed the rest of the game while White put on another show with 315 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 31-10 win.

It’s pretty amazing that the Jets drafted Wilson with the No. 2 pick in 2021, they have four games with a quarterback going over 300 yards and three touchdowns ever since, but none of them were with Wilson at quarterback.

Two belong to Mike White, the first Jets quarterback to do this twice since Ken O’Brien. Josh Johnson had one last year and Joe Flacco did it this year.

The Wilson era may not be done in New York, but it is impossible to ignore that the best performances at that position since Robert Saleh took over as coach have come with the backup quarterbacks.

Maybe White gets exposed the next two weeks when they play the Vikings and Bills on the road, but it is hard to see how he doesn’t deserve to keep starting after what he has shown and how little Wilson has done for this offense.

Hurry-Up Finish

Another busy week ahead, so here are the final four games.

Broncos at Panthers: The Lowest Point Yet for Russell Wilson

Can it get much lower than this for Russell Wilson? Sure, it was another low-scoring game that hit the under (36.5) despite it being one of the lowest unders in any NFL game played before December in the last decade.

But at least in the first 10 Denver games this season, it was always a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Wilson always had a chance to pull it out late. The best he could do on the road against a 3-8 Carolina team starting Sam Darnold was a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.

Denver’s only field goal drive in the game started at the Carolina 27, traveled 18 yards, and Wilson did not have a dropback on it. Even the lone touchdown drive came after a roughing the passer penalty negated an incompletion on fourth-and-18.

The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team since 2002 to fail to score 17 points nine times in their first 11 games. Look at the quarterback class Wilson is involved with here:

  • 2004 Redskins (QB Mark Brunell)
  • 2008 Rams (QB Marc Bulger)
  • 2009 Raiders (QB JaMarcus Russell)
  • 2011 Jaguars (QB Blaine Gabbert)
  • 2011 Rams (QB Sam Bradford)
  • 2022 Broncos (QB Russell Wilson)

Even Jimmy Clausen and the 2010 Panthers aren’t on this list anymore (8-of-11 games). This is pathetic.

Texans at Dolphins: Poor Bryce Young

If the Texans thought starting Kyle Allen would give the offense a boost, they were wrong. Turnovers contributed to Miami taking a 30-0 lead into halftime.

Now I’m usually all for pulling your key starters in a blowout but taking Tua Tagovailoa out with a 30-6 lead with 3:18 left in the third quarter was pretty bold by Mike McDaniel. At least go another drive and aim for the four-score lead in the fourth quarter before you take out Tua, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle at the very least.

At the same time, I kind of like the disrespect it showed to Houston, because this is one shitty team that had no real hope of making up 24 points. However, rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson fumbled a snap, and the Texans were in the end zone after starting at midfield.

Before you knew it, the Texans were only down 30-15 and had the ball with 7:12 left. Fortunately, the defense closed it out with another big sack and interception of Allen on the next two drives, preserving the 14-point cover for the win.

Miami’s offense finished with 23 points while only hitting one 30-yard play, allowing five sacks, and they could not get the running game going (26 carries for 66 yards) against what has been a laughingstock run defense all year long. We’ll need to see better play against the 49ers next week.

As for Houston, at least they probably can’t blow getting the No. 1 pick. But please do not let this coaching staff anywhere near Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or which ever signal caller they pick.

Falcons at Commanders: Oh, Now You Pass?

Even when the Buccaneers blow a game in Cleveland, the Falcons fail to capitalize. This was a very winnable game with the Falcons down 19-13, but they had first-and-goal at the 2 with 1:10 left.

For a team that wants to run the ball as much as possible, how do you not go to Cordarrelle Patterson here? Maybe even four times if necessary. Instead, the Falcons tried to run in Marcus Mariota, and he lost 2 yards, but at least it burned the final timeout for Washington.

So, with 63 seconds left, why on earth would you try to throw for a touchdown to take a 20-19 lead with a whole minute left when a field goal beats you? The Commanders were out of timeouts. The second down was the perfect spot to run the ball and take that clock down under 30 seconds.

But they tried to pass, and Mariota was intercepted on a tipped ball. Disaster. Atlanta still had all three timeouts, so it wasn’t over, but they managed to botch that too by running into the punter, which gave Washington a first down and ended the game. Pretty lousy time to have your second penalty of the game.

But an even worse time to go to Mariota on back-to-back plays on first and second down with goal-to-go.

Saints at 49ers: Sean Payton and Drew Brees Would Never…

The last time the Saints were shut out was the 2001 season finale, a 38-0 loss to the 49ers. Well, the 49ers got them again with a 13-0 shutout that didn’t really feel like the final score.

Hard to imagine many 13-0 games where each team only had nine possessions. The Saints are just the 14th team since the 1970 merger to get shut out in a game with a maximum of two turnovers and four punts from their side.

But the two fumbles by Alvin Kamara were crucial. The one on the opening drive set up a short field for a field goal by the 49ers, and the late one at the 1-yard line was a crazy play with him trying so hard to score and not securing the ball. It was nearly the third offensive fumble recovery for a touchdown of the day, but the 49ers got the ball instead.

Nick Bosa secured the shutout with a ridiculously timed jump for a sack of Andy Dalton on a fourth-and-goal from the 4. The 49ers were able to run out the final 6:18 on the clock to get the cover (-8.5) and the 13-0 win. Interestingly enough, Jordan Mason, who had five career carries coming into the day, got the final four carries for the 49ers to pick up the last two first downs.

Does that mean Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell are injured again? We’ll see. Big test coming next week against Miami.

Next Week

  • Good news: It looks #greatonpaper
  • We’ll see if Bill Belichick can control the weather again for Buffalo this Thursday night.
  • Lock the doors, hide your wife, hide your daughters, it’s Deshaun Watson Week in Houston.
  • Can Mike White be the one to end Minnesota’s close-game winning streak?
  • Biggest Washington-Giants game in many years.
  • Can Derrick Henry get an upset going in Philly?
  • 49ers-Dolphins is an outstanding matchup of offense vs. defense
  • Chiefs-Bengals is a premiere matchup, especially if Ja’Marr Chase returns

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 10

My expectations were for a pivotal Sunday in the NFL, and the games did not disappoint. We saw two overtime games that should be significant, including one of the all-time craziest fourth quarters in NFL history in Buffalo.

There were five teams that blew a double-digit lead this week. That’s the most since Week 5 of the 2020 season also had five, but these were games with crowds. No pandemic football.

In total, nine of the 13 games featured a comeback opportunity. If certain teams fall apart or go on a run from here, we are going to look back at this Week 10 as a crucial week to crafting this season’s narrative.

One thing I’m positive of: the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion will continue. The 2022 Rams are 3-6 and you can send them fishing. Given I had them still capturing the No. 1 seed this year despite not repeating, that is going to go down as one of my worst final record predictions.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Vikings at Bills: The Day the MVP Went Away

Instead of trying to take in everything that happened in one of the most chaotic fourth quarters in NFL history, I think we have to start with the big picture of what this game has done to the 2022 season’s narrative.

Maybe I didn’t believe it myself, but last week I said this game could dramatically change the shape of this season.

The races in both conferences: Buffalo has gone from the No. 1 seed to the No. 6 seed just like that. Meanwhile, the Vikings are 8-1 and running away with the NFC North.

The Super Bowl odds: Buffalo has been the favorite all year long, but you might see that change for the first time here with the Eagles and Chiefs starting to look like more attractive options.

The MVP award: Yeah, I think Josh Allen just destroyed his chances there. Six interceptions since the Kansas City win. Three straight games with multiple picks. One of the closest blunders to Joe Pisarcik.

Now our expectations for how we view the Vikings and Bills might change.

At least, my Buffalo views are souring after these last 10 quarters. They seem to be doing the same thing as last year where they peaked with the win in Kansas City, seemed to think that was the Super Bowl, and now they’re struggling in games they shouldn’t be. The elbow injury wasn’t enough to stop Allen from playing, and I’m not ready to accept that as an excuse when it was the egregious decision making and not the physical aspect of Allen’s game that blew this one.

But have my views changed on the Vikings, now 8-1, being a legit contender and vastly improved team this year? Um, no. Not really.

As I have said in past weeks, I still am seeing largely the same Minnesota team we always get, but things keep happening for them in close games, and not always by their own actions. The Vikings are now 7-0 in close games, including a 5-0 record at 4QC opportunities. This is unreal stuff from a team with a quarterback we never see this from.

If you think I’m going to let one of the silliest fourth quarters of all time change my mind on this team, then you’re crazy. For almost three quarters, this was textbook Minnesota in a big game, just like the Eagles loss in Week 2. The Vikings were down 27-10, the defense was getting shredded, and Kirk Cousins had multiple interceptions.

We’ve seen this story before. But this time, Dalvin Cook immediately broke an 81-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career. That was huge.

But okay, the Bills kept driving after that and were ready to go back up 17 points. I loved going for the fourth-and-2. Get it back up to 17, three scores, and don’t go for the 13-point lead and open yourself up to losing by a point. But Allen, as he has been doing since the second half against Green Bay, did not deliver. He panicked under pressure, and since it was fourth down, he had to do something, so he tossed a pick to Patrick Peterson in the end zone. Bad play and bad call only needing two yards and not the full seven for a touchdown.

But then the Vikings had to survive two fourth-down conversions just to keep the game going with another touchdown drive. They did it, and C.J. Ham scored a 3-yard touchdown run. But the Vikings missed the extra point to keep it a 27-23 game, because they are the same Vikings.

Granted, terrible three-and-out by the Bills that barely took any time off. But here is where the game was ultimately decided. The Vikings needed a go-ahead touchdown drive, and in the typical Cousins fashion, it was not going well. He took two sacks, including one by Von Miller to set up fourth-and-18. That’s a game-winning situation for a championship-aspiring defense. Period.

But instead of stopping them there, the Bills try to intercept Cousins’ miracle heave to Justin Jefferson, and the defensive back actually helps Jefferson secure the unbelievable catch for a 32-yard gain to extend the game. That should have been the game. Score some big points for the “knock it down” crowd, because by putting those two hands in there to go along with Jefferson’s one, it helped Jefferson get more grip on the ball and come down with it. Huge mistake.

But even after the miracle catch, the Vikings blow it. Jefferson is short of the plane to bring up a fourth-and-1. Cook drops a possible touchdown on a play where Buffalo was offside that would have counted as a touchdown if he scored. I actually agreed with the quarterback sneak by Cousins, but you have to do the Drew Brees one where you stick the ball out to break the plane, then pull it back. Cousins just didn’t get any push and he was down short of the end zone with 49 seconds left.

Once again, that should be the ballgame. Now, the Bills shouldn’t take an intentional safety in a 4-point game, because then you can lose on a last-second field goal. They just need to push the pile forward a little and get some breathing room. Game f’n over. Vikings only had one timeout left.

Instead, we get the worst play by any offense with a lead in the last minute since Joe Pisarcik and the Miracle at Meadowlands. Somehow, Allen and his center botch the exchange and he fumbles the ball, shits down his legs, and fumbles the MVP for good this year. The Vikings recover for a touchdown and lead 30-27 with 41 seconds left.

Just inexcusable. To Allen’s credit, he does a great job coming back with a drive without any timeouts to force overtime with a game-tying field goal. However, that probably shouldn’t have happened the way it did. Gabriel Davis got out of bounds with a 20-yard catch, but I think he dropped that ball and it was incomplete. The Bills did a good job of getting to the line quickly and running the next play, but it’s outrageous the booth did not buzz down to review that crucial call. If the Vikings lost this game, they would have a legit beef there for sure.

But the Bills moved it 69 yards and tied the game for overtime, concluding one of the wildest fourth quarters in NFL history. These teams are known for a few wild ones, but I’d have to put this right up there with Bills-Chiefs last year (42-36), Vikings vs. Ravens in 2013 in the snow, 2003 Colts vs. Buccaneers in Tampa, and 2000 Jets vs. Dolphins on MNF. This is high on the list for sure.

We get to overtime and the Vikings receive. They overcome a strip-sack that could have killed them in their own end, then a bad throw gets bailed out with a DPI flag on second-and-22. The Bills do a good goal-line stand from the 2, forcing Minnesota into a field goal and 33-30 lead.

So, with 3:35 left, Allen can totally redeem himself here. But we know the Bills are a bit shaky in these situations, which is why I’ve compared Allen to 1990s Brett Favre multiple times. Two wild and crazy front-runners who are a mixed bag in these moments, and they come through far less than the average fan probably imagines.

Bad elbow or not, Allen had no problem scrambling for 38 yards on two plays to quickly get into scoring range. But after getting to the Minnesota 20, I’m not sure what he saw, but he threw a bad looking pick to Peterson again and the game was over. Peterson will come away from this one with a good highlight reel to lead his Hall of Fame montage.

The Bills blew a 17-point lead at home with a fumbled snap on a sneak the lowlight of a game they had no business blowing. They just blew a 14-3 lead in New York last week. They lost in Miami despite gaining nearly 300 more yards than the Dolphins.

This team is its own worst enemy, and I don’t know if Allen misses offensive coordinator Brian Daboll reining him in a bit. Maybe Ken Dorsey, the 2022 OC, is too soft on him and is letting him get away with reckless play the last three weeks. But something is just off here.

So, I am souring a bit on Buffalo and starting to wonder if Patrick Mahomes will ever have to play a road playoff game. The entire AFC East would be in the playoffs if they started today, and the Bills would only be the No. 6 seed. Insane change of events.

But am I on board with Cousins and Jefferson being the Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp of 2022 and believe they’re going to win a bunch of playoff games by three points and vanquish Tom Brady and the Eagles in January to get to the Super Bowl?

No, I don’t buy it. Not when you needed all of this to happen to get a win over a good team.

But are the Bills front-runners who you shouldn’t trust in the clutch? Oh indeed. Are the Vikings enjoying this 8-1 start after years of seeing games go the other way? For sure.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but this is one that will definitely be remembered for a long time. Glad to have experienced it live on TV.

Cowboys at Packers: He’s Still Aaron Rodgers, He’s Still Mike McCarthy

There is no team during the Aaron Rodgers era that the Packers have ripped the heart out of worse than the Cowboys. Not only were there the dramatic playoff wins in 2014 and 2016, but you had a late game-winning drive in a 2017 game, a turnover fest won in 2019, a 23-point comeback led by Matt Flynn in 2013, and now this game that can save Green Bay’s season and make a lot of people lose faith in Dallas being any different this year.

I really thought Rodgers would let hubris get the best of him and he would throw like crazy with Mike McCarthy coming back to town for his first game at Lambeau with favored Dallas, the better team on both sides of the ball.

But the Packers basically broke the glass casing around Rodgers in the second half and let him be the Dallas killer he is, and McCarthy stood there and took it on the chin as McCarthy-coached teams do in these situations.

Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has now thrown three touchdown passes in three different losses to the Packers, though this one was not his finest work. Dak had 113 yards on 25 passes at halftime with two bad picks.

The shocker was Rodgers throwing six passes in the first half and handing off 18 times for 83 yards. It makes some sense. The backs are better than your receiving corps (allegedly). The Cowboys have a strong pass rush. I can see it making sense.

But it didn’t look like it was going to work with CeeDee Lamb destroying the secondary and helping Dallas to a 28-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.

But Rodgers scrambled on a third down for a conversion and that seemed to get him going. He faced a fourth-and-7 in Dallas territory and threw his best pass of the day to rookie Christian Watson for a 39-yard touchdown. That was the game changer. Rodgers showed a ton of trust in a rookie he has barely got to play with due to injury or him making mistakes that would make a veteran distrust him.

The Cowboys ended up going scoreless on their last four drives. Rodgers tied the game with his third touchdown pass of the game to Watson with 2:29 left.

The game went to overtime and I wasn’t really feeling it when Dallas wanted the ball first, but I understand why you make that call in Green Bay. A holding penalty really put Dallas in a bind and set up a fourth-and-3 situation at the Green Bay 35.

I must say I liked the decision to go for it. The field goal doesn’t end the game. It’s not even a guarantee to be made as Brett Maher is no Justin Tucker. A miss there would be awful in giving Rodgers the ball at his 43. I liked going for it, but the Cowboys just didn’t execute the play and Dak was nearly sacked before throwing up a miracle that wasn’t answered.

The Cowboys were about to blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for only the second time in team history. You may recall the first coming against Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez’s Jets in 2011 on Sunday Night Football.

This was probably worse since it can motivate Green Bay to go on a run instead of being left for dead with a sixth-straight loss. All Rodgers needed was one vintage throw to Allen Lazard for a 36-yard gain and that had the Packers in range. Mason Crosby was good from 28 yards on the field goal and the Packers pulled it out, 31-28.

We’ll see how big this one can be as Green Bay (4-6) gets an important head-to-head tie-breaker over Dallas (6-3) now. We’ll see if Watson builds on this three touchdown performance. Rodgers only threw 20 passes in the game. He’s only had two games in his career that he played into the fourth quarter with fewer pass attempts than he had on Sunday. But the backs delivered with 203 rushing yards.

In some ways, it was unlike any Rodgers game we’ve seen before, and yet because it was him sticking it to Dallas and McCarthy taking a bad loss, it was still very familiar football theater.

Chargers at 49ers: The Never Above .500 Club

Justin Herbert (0-4) and Kyle Shanahan (0-5) are now a combined 0-9 in games where they have a chance to go above .500 in their career records in the NFL for the first time.

With the Chiefs up next for the Chargers, it could be a few more weeks before Herbert gets there. But the Chargers put on a decent effort for most of the game while being outmatched and shorthanded.

Now that Shanahan is 48-48 with a trip to Arizona next, maybe he’ll finally get above .500 in the next game. Or the team will lose it after some inexplicable calls.

But that defense was nasty after halftime. The Chargers didn’t have a play longer than 12 yards after halftime. On five second-half possessions, the Chargers punted three times, turned the ball over on downs, and Herbert threw an interception on the first play of the final drive in the last minute.

I still pound the table that the 49ers don’t really use Deebo Samuel the way they should, and you could argue his health may have limited his touches here after missing the last game. But in throwing Christian McCaffrey into the mix, I just think this offense has so many weapons that Shanahan gets confused on how to use them all. Elijah Mitchell returned at running back and got 18 carries for 89 yards to 14 carries for 38 yards from McCaffrey. Maybe that was the right call since the run looked better when Mitchell was given the ball, but that was a big trade to make for CMC.

This offense really needs to do more than 19 points and a fourth-quarter comeback in a game like this. The Chargers were outmatched and yet George Kittle got one catch, Samuel had two, and Brandon Aiyuk dropped a touchdown.

Every week it feels like there’s some excuse about a player returning from injury or someone learning the playbook or figuring out their role. I guess I just hold the talent involved to a higher standard and would like to see more from this team.

But at least they won. And they almost got one of the cheapest covers ever, but the Chargers are a tough team to beat by a big margin.

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Absolutely No Nazi Jokes Here

The NFL’s first game in Germany went from bad on paper in the preseason to decent on paper this week to not so great of an outcome. But it did at least produce a strong contender for funniest play of the year:

Tom Brady also threw a bad pick in the fourth quarter, but the Seahawks wasted the first half with terrible play on third down and no run game to speak of. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Seahawks trailed 21-3 that Geno Smith started to look like the quarterback he’s been this season. He would lead two quick touchdown drives to make it 21-16 with an incredible pass on a fourth down to Marquise Goodwin for a score.

But in getting a second chance to salt away the game, Brady and the Buccaneers easily picked up four first downs to run out the final 3:55 on the clock. Call it a fake close game. Kenneth Walker was held to 17 yards on 10 carries while the worst-ranked rushing offense in football piled up 164 yards. Seattle had run defense problems earlier this season but it looked like it was turning the corner when the Seahawks held down Austin Ekeler and Saquon Barkley in consecutive weeks.

Alas, Brady had his defense and running game working for him in Munich. Julio Jones and Chris Godwin also caught touchdowns and the line didn’t give up a sack. It was probably the most complete game the Buccaneers played all season, and yet it was a 21-16 game with four minutes left.

But Brady running a route was something I did not see coming.

Jaguars at Chiefs: Low Drama Dissection

Kansas City’s 27-17 win over Jacksonville was by far the least dramatic home game for the Chiefs this year. Their first four home games were all decided by 1-to-4 points with the Chiefs often trailing, but this was a wire-to-wire win over a team not ready for shootouts. Still, it was disappointing to see the Jags fail to establish their running game with Travis Etienne after the tear he was on the last month.

Patrick Mahomes threw another four touchdowns and will likely take a big step forward in the MVP odds unless Jalen Hurts does something ridiculous on Monday night.

But my biggest takeaway is how stupid were the Giants to not find a role for wide receiver Kadarius Toney? He never seemed like a first-round pick they needed, and two coaching staffs never found a proper role for his talent. His health has been a problem, but if he can stay on the field, the Chiefs are going to love this dude.

Getting an expanded look with JuJu Smith-Schuster going out with a concussion, Toney scored his first NFL touchdown and finished with 90 yards on six touches, including a 32-yard rush. No other defense will leave him as wide open as he was on the touchdown play, but this is another toy for Mahomes to play with.

The rich really do get richer.

Colts at Raiders: Raiders Do Look Horrible

I’m amused and annoyed with this one. I thought the comedy factor would have been maximized if the Colts pulled this off with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback to go along with Jeff Saturday, the only coach in the last 60 years with no previous experience coaching in college or the NFL.

But if you told me Matt Ryan was going to start this game, I would have said Colts +4.5 was a great pick and they probably even win this game. The Raiders have been that bad at holding leads, and Ryan’s already led a bunch of comebacks this year. He never should have been benched for Ehlinger.

As it turns out, Saturday’s first big move was to put Ryan back in the starting role, and he waited until warm-ups to do it. We’ll need more games to figure out if Saturday is just a genius for this job, or if he was fortunate to catch the Raiders with his better quarterback playing and a healthier version of Jonathan Taylor. Both players were key in the win, and the Raiders might as well just forfeit the rest of season if you’re going to let old Ryan run for 39 yards like this:

Right after that play, the Raiders got Michael Pittman to fumble, which could have been crucial with the Colts down 20-19 in the final six minutes. But in trying to return the loose ball, the Raiders never got possession and Pittman got back on top of it. On the next play, Ryan found Parris Campbell on a short throw that looked way too easy turning into a 35-yard touchdown with 5:07 left. The Colts only allowed one sack in the game.

Like most Vegas games this year, it came down to Derek Carr trying to lead a game-winning drive. Like every game but Houston, it didn’t work out. Carr’s fourth-and-7 pass to Davante Adams in the end zone was defended well by Stephon Gilmore, and no flag was thrown. Both players were fighting with each other, so it was a good no call.

It hasn’t been pretty, but in eight games for the Colts, Ryan has already led five fourth-quarter comebacks (one tie) and four game-winning drives. Ryan’s 38th fourth-quarter comeback win ties him with Drew Brees for the fourth most in NFL history. Ryan’s 46th game-winning drive moves him out of a tie with John Elway for the sixth most in NFL history.

I would not be surprised if I wake up Monday afternoon and see Josh McDaniels got the axe in Vegas. The Davis family is not afraid of bold coaching moves, though nine games would be one of the quickest pink slips ever handed out to an NFL coach.

But is it not justified? He couldn’t beat the guy who was calling this team horrible on Twitter two weeks ago as part of his ESPN studio job. I don’t know how many more games Saturday will win with Indy, but I bet the tightly-connected network of NFL coaches hates this guy and is actively rooting for him to fail. Why? It would make them look silly when they try boasting about their profession where you have to work 100 hours and sleep in your office just so you can punt on fourth-and-1 or call a trick play to throw the ball to your 45-year-old quarterback.

Saturday knows football. Winning football at that. The knowledge alone does not qualify him to be a coach but understanding the game and being a leader should get you most of the way there. Look at McDaniels and his lack of leadership everywhere he goes any time he isn’t holding onto Bill Belichick.

The Colts are lucky McDaniels bailed on them in 2018.

Saints at Steelers: T.J. Watt and Andy Dalton Return to Pittsburgh

If T.J. Watt plays, the Steelers are more than likely to win. If T.J. Watt is out, the Steelers are almost certain to lose.

It shouldn’t be that cut-and-dry for a defensive player in 2022, but it kind of is in Pittsburgh. At least, New Orleans was a perfect opponent for the Steelers to welcome back Watt to face out of a bye week. Andy Dalton is now 3-14 in starts against Pittsburgh, and all he could muster was 10 points of offense in this one after he was intercepted and stopped cold on a fourth-down quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter of a close game.

But this was hardly a Watt masterpiece even though he made his presence felt a few times. It was also a good 2022 and team debut by safety Damontae Kazee, who made the fourth-quarter pick of Dalton in a 13-10 game after Kenny Pickett technically led the first game-winning drive of his career.

As for Pickett, it’s his first legit win since he was knocked out of the Tampa Bay game in the third quarter. It’s his first legit game of not throwing an interception as he made smarter decisions with the ball. He did take six sacks and was limping as the protection was not too good this week, but the run blocking showed up.

The Steelers rushed for 217 yards and even Najee Harris (99 yards) looked good. The Steelers had four different players register a 20-yard run, something the team hasn’t done in decades (if ever).

They won’t all be as easy as this one, but the Steelers proved again any quarterback can look more comfortable if you give him a consistent running game and strong defense to let him know he doesn’t have to do everything drive after drive.

If Watt stays healthy, I still think the Steelers are going to land around seven wins after the 2-6 start. That Watt injury really cost them the potential for some close wins over the Patriots, Browns, Jets, and Dolphins. But this season was never about seriously competing for the playoffs. They just have to get Pickett comfortable and make sure he’s capable of being the guy going forward.

Sunday was encouraging again.

Browns at Dolphins: The Synchronized Dolphin Show

What to make of these teams now? The Browns quickly scored an opening-drive touchdown, then watched the Dolphins score the next 24 points in a game that never got close after halftime. It’s the Browns’ second blowout loss this season after the Patriots got them 38-15 earlier this year. They are 0-3 against the AFC East, but hey, at least they are catching Buffalo at a good time next week…

It was another big game for the Miami offense, but it was by far the most balanced effort yet. The running game that has been struggling finally clicked to the tune of 195 yards. Jeff Wilson had 119 yards after coming over from the 49ers in a trade.

The passing game wasn’t just Tyreek Hill (44 yards and a short touchdown) and/or Jaylen Waddle (66 yards) dominating. The Dolphins had five 30-yard receivers, including Trent Sherfield (63 yards), who caught his first touchdown before halftime on a great effort.

Just like that, the Dolphins are 7-3 going into the bye with Houston at home up next. This team could be 8-3 and sitting at No. 1 or No. 2 in the AFC in a couple weeks. I think it’s fine to be skeptical of them given the recent wins are against PIT/DET/CHI/CLE, but we’ll get a great sense of this team’s legitimacy when they play a six-game stretch after Houston of the 49ers, Chargers, Bills, Packers, Patriots, and Jets. Those first three are all on the road too.

But this offense is getting comfortable and expanded, and that could be a scary thing for the other AFC contenders.

Lions at Bears: Just Need a Field Goal, Fields

I must give the 2022 Bears credit. I’ve never been this interested to write about a 3-win Chicago team in November like I am with this team. They remain a 3-win team too, because despite these historic rushing numbers, this offense cannot set up a field goal when it matters most.

  • The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to rush for at least 230 yards in five consecutive games.
  • Yet they are 1-4 in those games.
  • The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to lose three consecutive games after scoring at least 29 points.
  • Justin Fields is the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 140 yards in consecutive games, following up 178 last week with 147 rushing yards against Detroit.
  • Yet in both games, he just needed to set up a game-winning field goal and could not move the offense.

When Matt Eberflus sent away for an elite Chicago running game, he forgot to order the great defense too. Those were the two staples of great Chicago years in the past. They could run the ball and play defense. This one only runs the ball, but it can’t even seem to do that when only a field goal is needed.

But don’t put too much blame on the defense for allowing a go-ahead touchdown drive with 2:21 left. The Bears shouldn’t have been in that position after leading 24-10 in the fourth quarter. But Fields threw a horrific pick-six to Jeff Okudah that tied the game at 24:

To his credit, Fields made up for that one with a 67-yard touchdown run, but the Bears missed the extra point and that left the door open for Jared Goff and the Lions in a 30-24 game. The Bears actually had another chance to add to the lead at midfield, but they went three-and-out.

Even after Goff’s drive, Fields had plenty of time to set up a game-winning field goal. But on a day where he only passed for 167 yards, he wasn’t decisive enough in the two-minute drill and he ended up taking two sacks, including one on fourth-and-8 to effectively end the game.

You can praise the incredible rushing of Fields, but you can’t overlook that it isn’t winning games, and all the running seems to be taking away from the development of the passing game.

This offense is not normal. The Bears have just lost three games in a row where they rushed for at least 240 yards and scored at least 29 points each week. No other NFL team since 1950 has more than two such losses to this day, let alone in a three-game period.

Since 1950, NFL teams rushing for at least 240 yards and scoring at least 29 points are 509-13. But the 2022 Bears are now 1-3 when they do it.

Here’s one more record: 2022 Bears join the 1965 49ers and 1966 Giants as the only three teams in NFL history to lose three straight games where they scored at least 25 points and rushed for at least 100 yards. Given we know the Bears were at 29+ points and 240+ rushing yards every week, this is the worst streak of the group.

The Chicago Bears being the NFL franchise with the worst losing streak in history when scoring more than 28 points and running the hell out of the ball is a plot twist few could have imagined. But here we are.

Hurry-Up Finish

I think the early Sunday morning games are done this season (thank God), but here’s to finishing up a great Sunday with three quickies.

Broncos at Titans: The Most Predictable One-Score Game of Week 10

You had to know this game would be decided by 1-to-8 points. Denver is the only team to play nine close games this year, and it’s not like Russell Wilson would have it any other way.

Denver’s offense continues to waste one of the best defenses in the league this year. After building a 10-0 lead, Russell Wilson led his offense to zero points on six second-half drives. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill shook off a slow start after missing the last two games and got it done through the air (255 yards and two touchdowns) on a day where Derrick Henry was held to 53 yards on 19 carries. The Titans scored the final 17 points and clinched the game with a tipped interception off Wilson thrown out of fourth-down desperation in the final minute. Wilson was also sacked six times.

Wilson is now 3-3 this season when the Broncos allow no more than 17 points. Wilson was 44-3 in Seattle before he suffered his third loss in such a game (71-9-1 overall).

Jerry Jeudy was injured early, so it was another big loss for the Broncos on offense this season. But the Broncos finished 4-of-17 on third down. If Tannehill can manufacture 17 points with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine going for 119 yards and two touchdowns, what’s Wilson’s excuse for 10 points?

Texans at Giants: Still Can’t Stop the Run

The Giants had a bye and the Texans had a few extra days after playing last Thursday, but that didn’t stop Saquon Barkley from a predictable stat line of 152 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 24-16 win that was never really in doubt.

Daniel Jones also had one of the most efficient passing games of his career with 13-of-17 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. It’s technically another one-possession win for the Giants due to Houston kicking two late field goals while down two scores, but the Giants led wire-to-wire for 3.5 quarters.

Is anyone going to be impressed by knocking off the 1-win Texans? Of course not. But at least the Giants avoided a giant letdown after the bye.

Cardinals at Rams: Early Toilet Bowl

This is the last game in the article but the first recap I’m writing as I want to flush down the biggest turd quickly. Only on Saturday night did I see some blurb that Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray might be out for this game. I wasn’t even aware they had injuries this week as I do the meat of my injury article on Monday and Tuesday, and there was just nothing there. How does Stafford enter the concussion protocol on a Tuesday? Did he fall down steps or slip in the shower? That was weird.

It led to one of the early toilet bowls this season as the loser will certainly miss the playoffs after both made it last year. Sean McVay was 11-1 against the Cardinals, but there is no doubt Colt McCoy is a better backup quarterback than John Wolford.

Go right to the fourth quarter with the Rams trailing 17-10. Wolford air mails a high pass to Cooper Kupp, and the defensive back clips Kupp’s ankle on the way down, knocking him out of the game and potentially for much longer. I wouldn’t classify it as an intentionally dirty hit, but the poor throw helped lead to it. Kupp left the game with 3 catches for -1 yards, cementing Arizona’s legacy of being the only defense to have an answer for him in 2021-22. Four times they held him under 70 yards when no one else could. Just unfortunate as hell it came to an injury here. You don’t want to see a wide receiver having one of the all-time runs suffering an ankle injury.

But on the very next drive, McCoy converted a fourth-and-3 with a deep pass to Rondale Moore, who made a nice catch for 26 yards. Two plays later, James Conner was in the end zone again and the rout was on. Arizona eventually won 27-17.

The Rams are 3-6 and last place in the division. Stick a fork in them. We’ll have a new Super Bowl champion and a new NFC West champion this year.

Next week: I’ll probably have to pull the plug on my preseason pick of the Chargers winning the AFC West, but not before I give them one last chance in the rematch with the Chiefs on SNF.  Titans-Packers suddenly got interesting again this Thursday night. I hope the Eagles deliver on Monday night so we can talk about Matt Ryan and Jeff Saturday spoiling a 9-0 team’s season with a fourth-quarter comeback. The NFL coaching network is already so pissed with Saturday’s existence. This would be incredible stuff.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 9

Not to start on a huge rant, but I think when I pull myself away from spending the better part of three hours watching the Steelers fiddle their way to 15 points and actually watch all the other teams on RedZone all afternoon, I just see a lot of piss-poor football this season.

The quarterback play again looked lousy on Sunday with Tua Tagovailoa, the Play-Action Prom King, the only quarterback to hit 300 yards until Patrick Mahomes did it at night. But more than that, I couldn’t get over how many bad fumbles there were. Plays where a player just lost the ball himself in the open field. Bobbled snaps. Fumbles that were then fumbled right back by the defense on the same play. Then don’t even get me started on the plays that are rushed and the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page. How is that still happening so frequently in November?

Insert the clip of Vince Lombardi’s “What the hell’s going on out there?”

Really, what the hell is going on this season? The Bills lost to the Jets after leading 14-3. Minnesota is 7-1 after coming back from 10 down in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw THREE interceptions in Detroit and lost 15-9 to the worst defense in football. The Rams-Bucs go from 34-24 and 30-27 games last year to a 16-13 stinker that makes me think we should just cancel the NFC playoffs and let the Eagles face the winner of a best-of-three between the Chiefs and Bills.

I just said a week or two ago that this 2022 season needs to be something more than the Bills-Chiefs winner against the Eagles in the Super Bowl. After this weekend, it looks like it might be something more than that, but whatever it is, it’s going to be pretty damn strange.

But once again, it comes down to close games. We had nine comeback opportunities out of 12 this week with six teams on bye. How are the Vikings (7-1) and Jets (6-3) posting such good records? They are a combined 11-0 in close games and 7-0 in 4QC/GWD opportunities.

When does their luck run out? They’ll actually meet in about a month in Week 13. Who knows what trajectory this season will be on by then. That’s also the day Deshaun Watson will be back. Hide the women and children, things are about to get dangerous as fan bases who haven’t enjoyed success in a long time, if ever, are going to be chiming in loudly now that the gap between the top and bottom has shrunk some.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Titans at Chiefs: These Teams Really Are “Just Different”

Despite the Titans being 14-point underdogs with rookie quarterback Malik Willis, Sunday night turned out to be the day’s best game, complete with one of Patrick Mahomes’ best game-tying drives and an overtime finish.

These teams are so stylistically different on offense that it proved to make for a compelling game between 5-2 teams with some history. We know the Chiefs had their worst loss of the Mahomes era last year, a 27-3 rout that is still the only game of Mahomes’ career where he never had a lead. He led 9-0 in this one before the Titans scored the next 17 points.

Some of the ingredients were there again for this to be a one-sided game in favor of the Titans, namely an attacking defense and Derrick Henry rushing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. But with Willis taking over for Ryan Tannehill, the Titans just lacked that extra punch on offense that could have put the finishing touches on this one with one more scoring drive. The Titans had five completions, and none went to a wide receiver.

The Titans also had one first down on their final 10 possessions. Yikes.

But Tennessee’s offensive shortcomings were matched by a defense that put on one of the best efforts anyone has against Mahomes in Kansas City. They really made him work for this one with 78 dropbacks after the running game bombed badly with 13 carries for 14 yards.

Mahomes was sacked four times, hit eight more times, and there was a seven-drive span where the Chiefs failed to score a point, tying the 19-13 game against the 2019 Colts for the longest scoreless streak in a Mahomes start. Of course, Harrison Butker didn’t help with a missed field goal during that run, but the Chiefs were really challenged by the Titans.

The Titans took their 17-9 lead into the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, but that was when Mahomes put together one of the best drives of his career starting from his own 7. The drive ultimately succeeded because of Mahomes’ legs. His 20-yard scramble on a third-and-17 was a game changer. His 14-yard touchdown scramble on third-and-9 was another great run as several of his best runs have now come against the Titans in his career. He went for the hat trick on the two-point conversion, taking it in himself again.

But between the big runs on the drive, Mahomes found success when he stopped trying to force the ball to the well-covered Travis Kelce and got his other receivers involved with quick passes. JuJu Smith-Schuster especially had a big night.

With the game tied, the Titans would go three-and-out and never get another first down the rest of the game. You could see how little respect the Chiefs gave to Willis and the Tennessee offense, along with some respect for their own offense. But if Tannehill was playing in this game, I cannot imagine Andy Reid goes for a fourth-and-1 at his own 45 in a 17-17 game or a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 13 on the first drive of overtime.

The Chiefs converted both of those plays, but they were still stopped in regulation, and after winning the coin toss in overtime and setting up that first down at the Tennessee 11, they were stopped cold again on three passes. Butker, who also missed an extra point earlier, pulled his head out of his ass and made the 28-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead.

Almost predictably, the Chiefs would force the Titans to go four-and-out with Willis making some bad plays by holding the ball too long. He really didn’t have any open receivers, but he needed to throw the ball away. Once that first long sack set up third-and-21, you knew the Titans were in trouble. After another sack set up fourth-and-26, Willis threw incomplete on a short pass to end the game.

It was a wild one, and if these teams were to see each other again with Tannehill or if Willis gets better as a passer and remains the starter, then you could see the Titans being one of the few teams who could go into Arrowhead and win. They have been a nuisance over the years for Reid’s teams.

But the quarterback mismatch was just too much for the Titans to overcome in the end. Mahomes ended up throwing for 446 yards on 68 passes and rushing for 63 yards and a touchdown.

The Chiefs are 6-2, but I think we are going to see more tough games like this one and the comeback against the Raiders, which were two of the most dramatic island games this season. This offense has looked as good as ever in games against the Cardinals, Buccaneers, and 49ers, but we have also seen the offense held to 20 points or fewer in four games now. There seems to be no middle ground as that 30-29 win over the Raiders is the only game where the offense scored between 21-40 points.

I guess this is what life without Tyreek Hill looks like this year. You just hope that when the off game comes in the playoffs, the defense is able to do enough to keep the game winnable and they can grind another close one out. Sunday night was the first time in the last 13 games the Chiefs did not allow 20 points. Of course, Malik Willis won’t be there every week.

But the rematch with Justin Herbert and the Chargers in Los Angeles in two weeks is looking like a big one again. It’s even bigger if the Chargers can upset the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday night.

Rams at Buccaneers: Surprised They Didn’t Blow It Like This in January Too

The battle of two teams who have seen better days ended in a manner you should have expected. The Rams tried their darndest to blow the NFC divisional round matchup even after taking a 27-3 lead, but Cooper Kupp saved his biggest play for the end of the game.

He may have saved his biggest mistake for the end of this one, but the whole final sequence was classic, conservative Sean McVay. For 58 minutes, we were stuck watching two bad offenses that rank 31st and 32nd in rushing try to throw the ball with quarterbacks who are having the worst seasons of their career at throwing touchdowns.

If Matthew Stafford isn’t lining up a shot play for Kupp this year, he’s almost worthless. Tom Brady has taken a liking to skipping balls off the ground as so many of his throws are low and well short of the sticks this year.

After Kupp’s early touchdown gave the Rams their only offensive life and a 7-3 lead in this one, Brady was given 11 more drives in a row where he just needed a touchdown to tie or take the lead. Eleven. Do you think the quarterback who has thrown for 100,000 yards in his career including the playoffs could get one touchdown drive on 11 opportunities?

But the Rams, led by a few great plays by Aaron Donald, kept him out of the end zone on the first 10 drives after the Kupp touchdown. But even when he threw incomplete on fourth and goal with 1:52 left, you knew it wasn’t over with the Bucs having two timeouts left.

If you have paid attention to Sean McVay’s career, you know he is super conservative in these moments. The thought used to be that he was afraid to let Jared Goff throw with the late lead, but he has Stafford now and we still see this stuff.

On the second play of the drive, after a run for no gain, Kupp got another carry. Instead of trying to plow forward for the first down, which he absolutely had a shot at with the way he runs with the ball, Kupp did a big slide to stay in bounds and keep the clock running after a 5-yard gain.

What the hell was that? Even if you get knocked out of bounds, go for the 10 yards and end this thing. The game is over with a first down. That was a big mistake, but McVay made it worse with the predictable run for a yard on third-and-5. All that money to Stafford and Kupp, and you call a run to Darrell Henderson with a chance to win the game. For shame, man.

So, the stage was set. Brady had 44 seconds and no timeouts to drive 60 yards for the win. He got almost half of it right away with a pass to tight end Cade Otton, a 28-yard gain after the Bucs had zero 20-yard plays in the first 59 minutes.

Okay, but the Rams would be more aggressive with the ball getting closer to the end zone, right?

Wrong. The Rams went prevent and didn’t even bother guarding the sidelines. Brady could go 25 yards in three plays that took 12 seconds with how open the receivers were at the sideline.

With the ball at the 7 now, the next piece of the puzzle was Mike Evans doing his usual acting job to sell a defensive pass interference that officials almost always buy. Brady threw a terrible, hurried pass that no one could have caught, but because there was a little contact with the defender, and because of how good Evans is at selling these, they got the ball at the 1-yard line. Otton finished the drive with the walk-in touchdown on a play-action pass, the first touchdown by a Tampa tight end since Rob Gronkowski retired. The Rams then fumbled a lateral play to end the game.

On a day where multiple NFL games had questionable endings in regards to DPI being called or not with any consistency, go figure it was Brady and Evans to get the call on the worst throw of the three.

The reputation of the quarterback, receiver, and defender involved in a pass play should not have any influence on whether or not the play is pass interference. But watch enough NFL games and it is hard to deny there isn’t some influence there.

  • I cannot imagine Brady and Evans not getting that DPI call on the Chase Claypool play that Justin Fields threw to no avail to end the game.
  • I doubt Jets corner Sauce Gardner gets away with what he did on Gabe Davis if he was an undrafted scrub playing in his first game instead of an emerging rookie star who was drafted No. 4 overall.
  • If the pass Brady threw to Evans was thrown by Malik Willis to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, you’ll die holding your breath waiting for the same flag to come out.

Star treatment aside, this loss was on McVay more than anything. He had a chance to bury Tampa Bay at 3-6, but he’s the one sitting at 3-5 because he doesn’t play to win like he should.

Bills at Jets: Oh Great, Now You’ve Encouraged Them

The Buffalo Bills have received plenty of praise all season. They have been the favorites to win it all this year since the preseason. They were my preseason Super Bowl pick. Josh Allen has been leading the MVP race all year.

But ever since they won the Game of the Year in Kansas City in Week 6 and had their bye, it is starting to look like the Bills are listening to too much of the praise before they’ve actually achieved anything different this season.

They beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Arrowhead last year with Allen getting MVP praise. What happened a few weeks later? It was one year ago today (11/7) they lost 9-6 in Jacksonville as a huge favorite with Allen playing such a terrible game that it effectively destroyed his 2021 MVP campaign.

Allen wasn’t Jacksonville terrible on Sunday, but the truth is he has thrown four interceptions since he’s thrown his last touchdown pass. They have been pretty bad, 2018-19 type Josh Allen picks too. He did rush for two early touchdowns against the Jets to build a 14-3 lead, but the Bills managed just one field goal the rest of the way.

The Jets were not stellar on offense, but they also did enough damage to make the Bills look less than impressive as they try to finish No. 1 on defense. Zach Wilson avoided throwing any interceptions, and he hooked up with rookie wideout Garrett Wilson eight times for 92 yards.

But the difference in the rushing games was significant. The Jets gave Wilson 150 yards of ground support compared to 48 yards for Allen, who barely broke 200 yards passing again as no one but Stefon Diggs (93 yards) really stepped up at receiver.

Allen did not have a successful fourth quarter after the Bills tied the game at 17. The Jets helped Wilson out by going to the ground game exclusively on their game-winning drive until Wilson converted a third down before the two-minute warning. That led to the Bills burning through all three timeouts before the Jets kicked the go-ahead field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 1:43 left.

Still, that’s plenty of time to set up a field goal in this league. But I’ve had my reservations about the Bills being a front-running team. The game-winning drive in Kansas City was great, but the fact is Allen is only 9-16 (.360) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in his career.

It looked like Allen was going to overcome an instant holding penalty and first-and-20 situation, but a strip-sack nearly ended his drive after three snaps. The Bills recovered but faced third-and-21. Allen was too low for Diggs, who did very little after halftime, and on fourth down, he threw up a prayer in a really solid spot to Gabe Davis, but he was in coverage with rookie corner Sauce Gardner. There was a lot of contact and Gardner did very little to look back for the ball, but there was no flag.

Ideally, you don’t want to see a team put in instant field goal range at the end of the game with a DPI flag like that. It should be something egregious. My issue with the whole process here is that it seems like officials are already applying star treatment to Gardner, a rookie, as if he was prime Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman. This isn’t the first time he’s gotten away with some aggressive grabbing at the end of the game to no call by the official. Why wouldn’t he keep doing it if they’re not going to call it?

Buffalo (6-2) is still holding onto the No. 1 spot in the AFC, but the Jets are right there at 6-3 and Buffalo is now 0-2 in division games after losing to Miami earlier. I still think this team’s worst enemy is itself. Right now, the Bills are looking like a team that thought its shit didn’t stink this year. After these last five quarters going back to the Green Bay game not ending as well as it could have, hopefully they realize they still have a long way to go this season.

Week 6 didn’t guarantee a thing other than holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs.

Packers at Lions: Some Shitty Throws, For Sure

Aaron Rodgers was 18-3 against the Lions in games he actually played to completion. The Detroit defense made him look bad in a 19-7 loss in 2014. Mason Crosby had some kicks he’d like to have back in losses in 2015 and 2018 as Rodgers did what he could on tough days for the Packers.

But Sunday? This was something different. Rodgers was facing perhaps the most inept Detroit defense since the days of the 0-16 team in 2008, but he still found a way to throw three interceptions deep in scoring range and lost a 15-9 game to Jared Goff and a 1-6 team.

Jesus Christ.

The interceptions were stunning as this is a quarterback who throws two or four picks for an entire season most of the time since 2018. He just threw three in one game against a team he owns that had two picks all season coming in. A Detroit defense that allowed at least 24 points to everyone, but the Packers got nine largely because of those interceptions.

Was it all Rodgers’ fault? No, Romeo Doubs was carted off and Aaron Jones, not that they seemed to want to use him anyway on Sunday, did not finish the game either. The skill player injuries continue to mount. There were also some bad drops.

But after thinking Matt LaFleur was such a good coach for Rodgers and better than Mike McCarthy, I’m just not seeing it after what is now a five-game losing streak. The team is getting worse instead of better. Maybe that’s the injuries and lack of talent, but why after running all over Buffalo did the Packers not try something similar in this game? Rodgers trying to pad the touchdown pass total with those short, quick throws into tight windows was ludicrous. Give the ball to Aaron Jones, the guy with 40 touchdowns in 2019-21.

A fade to Sammy Watkins is the best play call you have? Really?

But once the Packers got the ball to the Detroit 17 in a 15-9 game in the final minute, you still thought Rodgers had it in him to pull it out. Not so much because of his personal history, but also because you just expect the Lions as a franchise to lose this game to Green Bay. Like Brady, Rodgers could play like shit for 59 minutes but get all the credit if he delivers on the last drive.

Of course, you still have to deliver, and he didn’t do it this time. Why is he wasting two downs with lazy throws that landed well out of bounds to Allen Lazard? Why is he going for the end zone on third down when he still has time to pick up the first and get inside the 10? What the hell was that fourth-down play to Watkins supposed to be? He wasn’t even looking for that ball.

Four straight incompletions ended the game, and the Lions pulled it off. Next, Rodgers will get to host Dallas, another team he’s owned for his career. But the days of expecting Rodgers and the Packers to do the things they used to do seem to be over.

It’s gotten so bad that you might not even be able to trust the Packers at home in a night game against the Bears anymore. You know, their Week 2 game that’s the only win they have by more than three points in their last 11 games going back to last season.

Vikings at Commanders: We Need to Talk About Kirk

Not that the world would be any saner with a Taylor Heinicke-driven win streak, but we need to talk about Kirk Cousins, because Mr. .500 is having one interesting season.

No one knows how to stay within a game of .500 like Cousins, but at 7-1 now, he is either threatening to blow that narrative out of the water this year, or the Vikings are about to have one of the most epic second-half meltdowns.

For the first time in his career, Cousins has led four fourth-quarter comeback wins in a season, and he still has at least nine games to go. This was the second time he’s rallied from 10 points down in the fourth this year, doing it against Detroit too.

These are the games Minnesota used to mostly lose, which is why in a normal year, the Vikings would be 3-5, 4-4, or 5-3 right now. But they’re getting things to go their way and their only loss was against the 8-0 Eagles.

When I say things are going Minnesota’s way, I mean after falling behind 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Cousins looks like he gets picked three plays into the next drive. Typical Cousins. He’ll finish with 300 yards and multiple touchdowns, but only after he throws a couple bad picks. But this time there was a defensive pass interference flag to negate it. Then Cousins hits a bomb to Justin Jefferson that leads to a field goal, and Heinicke is the one getting intercepted to set up a 12-yard field that Cousins turns into a nice touchdown catch by Dalvin Cook to tie the game.

Washington goes three-and-out, Minnesota drives methodically, but it looked like the go-ahead field goal would come with nearly two full minutes left for Heinicke to answer. But the Commanders are penalized on the field goal for a silly unnecessary roughness foul, so the game-winning field goal left Heinicke just 12 seconds to answer, which he understandably couldn’t.

Ho-hum, the Vikings are 7-1 with a 20-17 win that won’t move the numbers for them after the run game was stuffed (56 yards) and Cousins was barely over 50% complete. New tight end T.J. Hockenson showed out well in his first game after the trade from Detroit with nine catches on nine targets for 70 yards.

But despite the record and all the close wins, Cousins (50.1) is only 19th in QBR, which would be his lowest ranking and lowest QBR in his career.

I’d say that plane ride is about to be the peak of Minnesota’s season, but with Buffalo up next, what if next Sunday is the day everything changes? If Cousins outplays Josh Allen in an upset win, that could mark the first time all year the Bills are not on the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl, Allen is not leading the MVP race anymore, and Cousins just may be moving his name near the top of that list on an 8-1 team.

You like that?

I don’t think I do, but if Kevin O’Connell is going to give Cousins the Stafford makeover like he did with the 2021 Rams to win a Super Bowl and send Tom Brady into retirement along the way, then sign me up for all the craziness to come.

Seahawks at Cardinals: Baseball Season Is Over, Is Kyler Checked Out?

With the World Series in the books and a new Call of Duty game out, is it time for Kyler Murray to mentally check out of this season?

If you didn’t get the references, this is about the way Murray’s Arizona teams under Kliff Kingsbury tend to implode in November and December, and that the quarterback’s study time is impacted as he apparently has a thing for gaming.

But this is going to make for an awkward in-season Hard Knocks if the Cardinals keep losing after a bad start to the season. This game was fairly lopsided with the Seahawks converting 10-of-15 on third down and outgaining Arizona 421-262. I’m not even sure why the Cardinals were a slight favorite. Home-field advantage? Murray and Kliff have one of the worst home records since 2019.

But even with DK Metcalf held in check like usual against Arizona, he still caught a touchdown, Geno Smith didn’t implode, and Kenneth Walker rushed for 109 yards and two more touchdowns.

The Cardinals were down 17-14 to start the fourth quarter with the ball, but Murray took a third-down sack, one of five sacks on the day as he had problems getting the ball out late in the game. Seattle answered both Arizona drives in the fourth quarter with Walker touchdowns, and it’s yet another double-digit win for Pete Carroll’s team.

These really are the bizarro Seahawks, but it’s clicking right now with a 6-3 record and four straight wins. If this team can beat Tampa before the bye, it is not impossible for the Seahawks to be 10-3 going into the rematch with San Francisco in Week 15. Short of the Eagles going 17-0, I think you’d have to give Carroll the Coach of the Year award if this team wins 10+ games.

Chargers at Falcons: About What You’d Expect

We have already seen the Chargers in the Justin Herbert era play the Falcons twice, and see if you can spot the similarities:

  • 2020: Chargers win 20-17 after 43-yard field goal is good on a drive that started with 31 seconds left after an Atlanta turnover.
  • 2022: Chargers win 20-17 after 37-yard field goal is good on a drive that started with 34 seconds left after an Atlanta turnover.

Yeah, they went there again. It was another tough start for the Chargers, who were without wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but they still had Austin Ekeler for a couple touchdowns to offset the pair scored by Cordarrelle Patterson, who made his return for Atlanta.

Still, the game was lower scoring than expected with a comedy of errors in the second half as you might expect in a game between the Chargers and Falcons. Khalil Mack flat out stole the ball from rookie Drake London in the third quarter when London was about to set up first-and-goal.

In the fourth quarter, Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 50-yard field goal that would have given the Falcons a 20-14 lead and could have led to a much different outcome. But the Chargers tied the game with a field goal from Cameron Dicker the Kicker (real name), Atlanta went three-and-out, and Herbert seemed to have another game-winning drive brewing.

Then we were treated to a play that you could only get in a Chargers-Falcons game as both teams tried to choke as hard as they could with the game on the line.

With 46 seconds left at the Atlanta 22, Ekeler was just trying to run for a first down. He fumbled, the Falcons scooped it up and started to return it, then they fumbled it right back to the Chargers, starting a new drive with 34 seconds left. Herbert needed just one 22-yard pass to Josh Palmer to set up Dicker the Kicker from 37 yards out as time expired for the 20-17 win.

CBS had an interesting graphic that the 2022 Chargers are the third team in NFL history to trail by double digits after the first quarter of four straight games. The others were the 1962 Broncos and 1988 Buccaneers, two teams you don’t want to be associated with. But the shocking part is the Chargers are now 3-1 in these games, so they are finding their footing and holding onto most leads this year. Still, it doesn’t really feel like a 5-3 team, but we’ll see what can happen when the wide receivers return.

But after 28-3 and now blowing the last two winnable head-to-head meetings with the Chargers, I have to say the Falcons outclass the Chargers when it comes to choking and losing games in incredible fashion that you definitely should have won. So, if losing was the goal here to determine the real winner between these two, then Atlanta came through beautifully on Sunday.

Dolphins at Bears: Some Offensive Appreciation Here in 2022

I’d like to point out this was the most fun in a Dolphins-Bears game since Erik Kramer led a 15-point comeback in the fourth quarter for a 36-33 upset of Dan Marino’s Dolphins in 1997.

I’m not kidding either. There is something to be said that these teams are hopefully turning the corner on offense and will be watchable again, or in Chicago’s case, for the first time since television was invented.

The Dolphins are finally starting to stack big scoring games, and they even got Tyreek Hill his first touchdown since the Baltimore comeback to go along with his prolific yardage output this season. One thing I did notice is that it seemed like every single Tua pass attempt came off play-action. It’s something he uses around 30%, a league-high rate, and it certainly helps to have the speediest WR duo in the league. I can see the system QB arguments to come going forward, but whatever.

It was also a game that could have easily slipped away from Miami after the Bears pulled to within 35-32 with over 11 minutes left. No one scored the rest of the way, though there were chances.

Justin Fields had himself a prolific day with 178 rushing yards, the second most by a quarterback in NFL history and a new record for a regular-season game. Michael Vick had 173 yards back in the day.

By finishing with 252 rushing yards as a team, the Bears are the fourth team in NFL history (read: since 1940) to rush for at least 230 yards in four consecutive games. The only other teams to do that are the 1949 Eagles, 1951 49ers, and 1976 Steelers.

But given two cracks at a game-tying field goal, the offense stalled. However, the last drive was not entirely the offense’s fault. There was no flag here on Miami for defensive pass interference. This was a third-and-10 play with 1:35 left.

Tom Brady and Mike Evans get that flag. I guess Fields and new receiver Chase Claypool don’t have that luxury yet. Fields threw incomplete on fourth down on the next play to end the game.

Fields finished with a 95.4 QBR, the highest by any quarterback in Week 9, and easily the highest by any quarterback in a loss in the last two seasons. The Bears may not be winning most of these recent games, but it is an encouraging sign to see Fields moving the offense and putting points on the board even if it is happening in an unconventional way.

Raiders at Jaguars: McDaniels the Next One-and-Done?

Josh McDaniels must not have received the memo that the Jaguars have lost 40 straight games when allowing more than 20 points. Not 20 points exactly. More than 20 points. So, maybe the Raiders should have tried scoring on any of their five second-half drives.

By blowing a 17-0 lead, the 2022 Raiders join the 2003 Falcons and 2020 Chargers on a fitting list of teams to blow three leads of at least 17 points in the same season. No one else has done that, and both of those teams fired their head coach that year.

Blowing a 17-0 lead to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City is one thing but blowing a 20-0 lead to Arizona and now a 17-0 lead in Jacksonville is a fire-worthy offense in my book.

Trevor Lawrence had one of the best passing games of his career (25-of-31 for 235 yards), and Travis Etienne went over 100 yards and scored two more touchdowns on the ground. It was still on brand that Lawrence’s second fourth-quarter comeback saw him hand off to Etienne for a 5-yard touchdown on the first play of the quarter, but there was a significant multi-score comeback leading up to that point that he was a big part of, so props to him for finally delivering one.

Once again, the Raiders had a great half and a terrible half. They never seem to put it together for a full game. Davante Adams was absolutely unstoppable in the first half, catching all nine targets for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But in the second half? Very stoppable. He caught 1-of-8 balls for no yards and had some concentration drops.

Derek Carr’s success rate was 1-for-11 to end the game as he got four different drives to try to answer Jacksonville’s lead with a touchdown. Couldn’t get it done again, so the Raiders are 2-6.

This franchise is no stranger to firing coaches after one season. With nine games left to set the record for blown 17-point leads in a season, McDaniels may be back in New England soon.

Hurry-Up Finish

The clock change is probably going to kick my ass after sleeping four hours last night, so let’s finish this up with the two blowouts on Sunday.

The 30th-ranked run offense cranked out 241 yards on the ground with Mixon scoring five touchdowns (one receiving), a franchise record.

Panthers at Bengals: Have a Day, Joe Mixon

It was a spectacular performance that just goes to show you that playing division opponents can produce weird results like last week for these teams and playing out of conference foes you don’t match up well with could be harmful.

This was an early knockout with the Bengals up 35-0 at halftime before winning 42-21 after Baker Mayfield had to relieve starting quarterback P.J. Walker, who finished with a 0.0 passer rating on 10 passes, the first 0.0 game since Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen had one against Baltimore in the 2020 finale. Earlier that season, Ryan Finley also had a 0.0 game for the Bengals against Washington, so the last three instances have involved Zac Taylor’s Bengals. But he was on the right side of this one.

Colts at Patriots: Throwback to the Old Days Best Forgotten

Remember when this was the rivalry in the NFL? Good times. Sunday’s game was like a throwback to the early 90s when the Colts and Patriots were two of the worst offenses in the NFL. At least the Colts still won 6-0 in New England in 1992.

This was a 26-3 massacre despite the fact that the Patriots only finished with 203 yards of offense. Still beats the 121 yards the Colts had as Sam Ehlinger took nine sacks. Isn’t the younger, mobile quarterback supposed to escape those and make things happen? This was quite arguably the saddest offensive performance of the Frank Reich era, and he once lost 6-0 in Jacksonville with Andrew Luck.

The Colts were 0-of-14 on third down. Since 1991, only the 2012 Cardinals (0-for-15 vs. Jets) and 2009 Buccaneers (0-for-14 vs. Jets) equaled or did worse than that in a game.

Can anyone explain to me why the Colts said Matt Ryan’s benching for Ehlinger was a move for the rest of the season? Is this team just tanking? It’s the only logical explanation.

Meanwhile, as if there was any doubt who the GOAT is and who the LOAT is, Bill Belichick’s Patriots are 5-4 with injuries at all the skill positions and not much to brag about even when they are healthy. That is pretty good, and yet he is dead last in his division as the AFC East has morphed into a juggernaut apparently.

Maybe he should have left for the NFC South too if he wanted a shot at the playoffs in his twilight years.

Next week: Germany game? Guess I’ll have to get up in time to see Pete Carroll blow another fourth quarter to Brady. Save us, Geno. Some very interesting AFC-NFC games with Bills-Vikings and Chargers-49ers on SNF. Even Browns-Dolphins could be the most exciting matchup between those teams since the days of Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar.

NFL Week 9 Predictions: The Fake NFC Championship Game Edition

Three weeks ago, we had a clear-cut Game of the Year in the AFC between the Bills and Chiefs. They are still the two best teams in the league in my view, and the Eagles are the best in the NFC. All three are favored by double digits this weekend and we already watched the Eagles slip by Houston 29-17 on Thursday.

But what is the Game of the Year this regular season in the NFC? It wasn’t Packers-Buccaneers when both are 3-5 to start November. It was looking like it could be Week 12 Packers at Eagles on SNF, but not if the Packers are still playing like they have the last month.

Tomorrow had another option with Rams-Buccaneers, which I thought could have been an NFC Championship Game preview after it was the most pivotal matchup in last year’s playoffs to determine the Super Bowl winner. The Rams improved to 3-0 against Tom Brady in Tampa in a wild one that had no business being that close.

But both teams come into this one with a losing record, and either the Bucs will be 3-6 or the Rams will be 3-5 after it’s over.

Since I’m not a believer in the Vikings or Giants as legit Super Bowl contenders, that really just leaves Philadelphia at Dallas on Christmas Eve as the potential Game of the Year in the NFC. That would assume both keep winning and maybe the Eagles slip up once or twice so that Dallas has a chance to tie them or take the division lead with a win. That’s also assuming Dak Prescott is going to play like he did last year and keep this offense scoring to go along with the improved defense.

That might be the one to circle, but tomorrow, we’re going to see if the Rams or Bucs take an early TKO. But who are we kidding? Even if the Bucs lose to fall to 3-6, that division is still up for grabs.

Some of my articles this week:

NFL Week 9 Predictions

My trusty pick of the Eagles winning the second quarter/first half did not pay off on Thursday, but they did win the game at least.

It doesn’t look like many games with the big bye (six teams). Weird.

Definitely a RedZone afternoon for me. Glad to get a week off from watching the Steelers. Only two games in the late window is bad, but I’d probably be focusing on Rams-Bucs anyway. It’s just not as exciting a matchup as it could have been, but we’ll see what happens.

My SNF pick is also tough to make when I don’t know if Ryan Tannehill is playing. If he plays, I think the Titans cover. If it’s Malik Willis, I’m taking Chiefs ATS. They’ll eat him alive if he tries to throw in this offense that misses A.J. Brown a lot. We don’t even talk about that one too much because the Titans have found other ways to win, but this is a game he will definitely be missed.

I’ll be mad if Chargers-Falcons doesn’t have a crazy 4Q finish.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

Week 6 was a great one in the NFL because Sunday felt like a throwback to what I view as the game’s golden era:

  • An epic, hyped game lives up to the hype and ends 24-20
  • Tom Brady vs. Mike Tomlin’s defense
  • The Giants pull off another upset and are improbably a good team
  • The Colts threw the hell out of the ball to sneak past the Jaguars in the fourth quarter
  • An NFC East showdown on SNF that actually matters this year
  • Even Tony Romo was good today and I watched a great college football game on Saturday (Alabama-Tennessee)

You could have written this list for some random Sunday in October in 2007, and I have to say I enjoyed it from start to finish. If the 2007 connection doesn’t click yet, just read below about the top game, because Bills-Chiefs lived up to the hype.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: Game of the Year (and Buffalo) Delivers

I ended last week’s column with saying this game was going to be hyped almost to the level of 2007 Patriots-Colts when both were undefeated going into Week 9. These teams were 4-1, and Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes is still not up to the drawing power of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, but it might be getting there after a fantastic game that now gives Buffalo the inside track to home-field advantage after a 24-20 win.

24-20 sound familiar? That was the winning margin for the Patriots in that 2007 game, which featured a fourth-quarter comeback led by Brady and Randy Moss. In this game, Allen and Stefon Diggs (148 yards) really put in the work after Diggs had just 7 yards in the 42-36 playoff classic. But No. 1 wide receivers have toasted the Chiefs every week since Mike Williams in Week 2.

It may not have been the smoothest game for both teams, but this is what a great, lower-scoring game looks like between two of the best teams in the league in a game that means so much. You want to see a good mixture of offense and defense, and we got exactly that.

You still had plenty of offensive highlights. Both quarterbacks manipulated the defenses well with their legs while throwing 40 passes with 329 yards for Allen and 338 for Mahomes. Five different players caught a touchdown, including the first with the Chiefs for JuJu Smith-Schuster and the first of 2022 for tight end Dawson Knox on the game winner with 1:04 left.

Special teams showed up with Harrison Butker hitting a 62-yard field goal to end the half after the Bills left Mahomes 16 seconds, which we know is a few seconds too many. Butker was wide left on a 51-yard field goal to start the third quarter, however.

Then there were the defenses. According to CBS, this was the first NFL game since 2001 where both offenses started the game with a red-zone turnover. Allen and the Bills got too cute with a late pitch on an option run that went backwards and was recovered for a fumble, an unforced error. Mahomes got too greedy on a third-and-goal and forced an interception in the end zone.

Allen failed on a couple of big fourth downs, including one from midfield in a 17-17 game early in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, bad officiating threatened to mess up the finish to this one. The Chiefs had a big play to Travis Kelce wiped out on a horrendous offensive pass interference call, leading to only a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

Buffalo had lost its last 12 games when trailing in the fourth quarter. The last fourth-quarter comeback win was against the Rams in Week 3 of the 2020 season. With that in mind, Allen took a third-down sack by Chris Jones to quickly end his first response drive, but it was also clear as day that Jones tripped him. No call for tripping, however. Why even have the rule in the book if you’re not going to call one that obvious? It would have given the Bills an automatic first down too, so it was a huge no-call from the refs.

Fortunately, Von Miller had his offense’s back. This was exactly the game and moment they acquired him for. Miller sacked Mahomes on a third-and-6 to force a three-and-out, Miller’s second sack in the game. Miller and the defense did its part. Now it was up to Allen with 5:31 left to lead the signature game-winning drive of his young career.

He had to sneak for a first down to avoid it from being a four-and-out, but he got the job done. Diggs couldn’t be guarded with three more catches for 34 yards. Allen’s legs moved the ball to the 14 where the Bills were in a tough spot, because you know you want the touchdown but you don’t want to leave Mahomes much time.

The good news is unlike in the 42-36 game, the Bills would be up by four points here assuming the extra point is good, so Mahomes would need a touchdown this time. Still, when Allen threw a 14-yard touchdown to Knox (great throw) with 1:04 left, it felt like too much time for Mahomes with two timeouts.

But two snaps into the drive, the Bills worried Mahomes enough into double clutching and Taron Johnson added to his little collection of huge plays with a game-ending pick of Mahomes with 51 seconds left.

Buffalo pulled it out and really checked off a lot of boxes in the process. Allen delivered the big game-winning drive, Diggs dominated Kansas City’s secondary, the Buffalo defense emphatically stopped Mahomes at the end, Von Miller was a force, and even the running game (Devin Singletary had 85 yards) showed up early to make sure Allen wasn’t doing this alone.

It is a fantastic win for Buffalo, and it fits into what I have been saying all offseason and leading into this game. For this to be Buffalo’s year, it had to win this game and take the inside track to home-field advantage so that any possible rematch is in Buffalo in January. Mahomes has never played a true road playoff game.

If we are keeping things in perspective, this win guarantees nothing for Buffalo. Last season in Week 5, the Bills won 38-20 in more dominant fashion in Kansas City than they did in this game. That dropped the Chiefs to 2-3 and the Bills moved to 4-1. Yet, look what happened the rest of the season. The Bills finished 11-6 and Kansas City was 12-5, leading to the Chiefs hosting the Bills in the divisional round. That cannot happen again if Buffalo wants to win it all. The Bills need to let this fuel them towards greater things because this game is hardly the end goal.

But this is the kind of game we will talk about for years as we do with 2007 Patriots-Colts and 2017 Patriots-Steelers. Of course, the NFC East (2007 Giants and 2017 Eagles) still improbably won the Super Bowls in those years, but that’s just how the NFL goes sometimes.

I still think these are the two most trustworthy contenders in the league and would love to see an AFC Championship Game rematch in Buffalo this time.

Buccaneers at Steelers: One Wedding and a Funeral

If Sunday was the last time the Steelers ever have to face Tom Brady, then they ended things on a high note in a 20-18 upset.

Pittsburgh is the first double-digit underdog to win outright this NFL season. Tampa Bay was a 10-point favorite because half of the Pittsburgh starting defense was out, including the top three corners, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and some guy named T.J. Watt. Even with some of those players available, the Steelers lost 38-3 in Buffalo last week, allowing a career-high 424 yards to Josh Allen.

Now here comes Brady, the long-time nemesis who has picked apart far better defenses in Pittsburgh over the years. It made sense why Pittsburgh was such a big underdog at home, even if Tampa Bay hasn’t looked right all year. There’s also the fact that rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was facing a defense that had yet to allow more than 15 points to non-Kansas City opponents.

But color me shocked that Pittsburgh had 4:38 left in a 20-18 game with Brady and denied him from getting the ball cause Mitch Trubisky and Chase Claypool turned into vintage Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.

It was that kind of weird afternoon. Pickett started and threw his first touchdown pass to Najee Harris on a well-designed opening drive that seemed to be scripted, because he did very little afterwards and seemed to fall into the usual trappings of this offense with too many passes short of the sticks. Then he banged his head off the ground in the third quarter and had to leave for the concussion protocol.

Still, Pittsburgh led wire-to-wire thanks to one of the most inspired performances by a Mike Tomlin-coached defense:

  • I did not believe the Steelers were for real on defense, not even after an opening-drive three-and-out where they pressured Brady on third down.
  • Not after repeatedly stopping him in the red zone and holding Tampa Bay to field goals.
  • Not after stuffing Leonard Fournette at the 1-yard line.
  • Not after misplaying the end of half and allowing a 54-yard field goal.
  • Not after stuffing Fournette again on a third-and-1 to start the fourth quarter.

But when they stuffed Brady on the quarterback sneak, his go-to play that works over 90% of the time, I started to believe something with the Steelers up 20-12 halfway through the fourth quarter.

Where was this defense against Brady in years where Pittsburgh was a real contender? It did help that he chose Sunday to play like crap, skipping balls off the ground left and right in an attempt to kill earthworms while bitching his teammates out on the sidelines. Did going to Bob Kraft’s wedding on Friday night piss him off that much? He looked miserable once again and played like it to boot. If the large group of pigeons on the field in the second half were there in the first half when Brady was so off, he may have pulled a Randy Johnson and killed some with his throws into the dirt.

Of course, Tampa moved on from the failed sneak on third-and-1, converted two more fourth downs on that drive, and still got the touchdown with 4:38 left. No one’s going to talk about Brady missing a Saturday walkthrough with the team when the win was still right in front of him.

But Brady’s pass failed on the two-point conversion and the Steelers led 20-18. That’s when I switched to thinking the offense was going to lose this game now by being too conservative. Run-run-incomplete. Run-run-sack. Give Brady plenty of time to dink and dunk for a field goal and 21-20 win. The defense did what it could today. Steelers about to be 1-5 for the first time since 1988.

But Trubisky seemed to have something to prove in the fourth quarter, as did wide receiver Chase Claypool. Trubisky and Claypool hooked up on a touchdown earlier in the quarter, but Pittsburgh seemed like it was going to fall into the run-run-punt strategy. They even nearly turned the ball over inside their 25 due to a bad snap that Trubisky fortunately got on. But on a third-and-15, Trubisky found Claypool for 17 yards. Three plays later on a third-and-11, Trubisky found Claypool for 26 yards. It was Trubisky’s fourth third-down conversion of the quarter with all but one of them needing at least 11 yards to convert.

Where the hell did that come from? It was the best game for Claypool in a calendar year, if not longer. Trubisky’s legs took care of the third and final first down to run out the clock. Trubisky somehow proved to be the best quarterback in this game.

Underdog is always a role that seems to suit the Steelers well, but this was completely unexpected. While I would still bet on Tampa Bay (3-3) in a heartbeat in a playoff game against the likes of the Vikings and Giants, this team has taken a big step back this year after multiple retirements and a downgrade at coach and offensive line. Brady and the offensive line aren’t as good, the receivers aren’t as loaded, and the defense can be had.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (2-4) is only a game back in the division, and the only blowout loss was in Buffalo last week. I still would start Pickett if he clears the concussion protocol in time for next week in Miami in prime time, but Trubisky definitely earned his paycheck on Sunday.

If the only thing that comes of Trubisky’s Pittsburgh tenure is that he came off the bench to outplay Tom Brady, then it was worth every penny to sign him.

Ravens at Giants: So Much for Close-Game Regression (Both Ways)

Despite a historic number of injuries, the 2021 Ravens lost five games by a combined eight points as part of a six-game losing streak to close the season. Things were supposed to be better on the health front, a new defensive coordinator, and the returns of Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, Marcus Peters, and J.K. Dobbins.

But while there have been some more injuries, this season is starting to turn out more frustrating than last year when the team did start 8-3 before that losing streak. At least that team didn’t blow their third double-digit lead after halftime by mid-October.

Meanwhile, the Giants (5-1) making all these fourth-quarter comebacks is crazy to see after the way this team has played since winning Super Bowl XLVI:

Giants when trailing by 7+ points in fourth quarter

  • 2012-2021 combined: 3-78 (.037)
  • Thru Week 6, 2022: 3-1 (.750)

If we limited it to wins in regulation, the count would be 3-to-1 for six games of this season compared to the last 10 seasons combined.

So, do we just give Brian Daboll the Coach of the Year award now, or what? It is not sustainable for winning, but Daboll is getting a 4-1 record in game-winning drives out of a quarterback, Daniel Jones, who came into 2022 with a career record of 3-14 (.176) in those games.

The defense (and Lamar Jackson) helped a great deal in this one, but the 20-10 comeback in the fourth quarter started with a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Ravens had a lot of time to burn but were halfway through it until disaster struck. Jackson got on a loose ball and made a bad play terrible by forcing an interception. The Giants only needed to travel 13 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and 24-20 lead with 1:43 left.

Jackson had plenty of time to answer, but rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 5 pick in the draft, picked a great time to get his first career sack.

Thibodeaux knocked the ball from Jackson two plays into the drive and the Giants were able to recover and run out the clock for another stunning win. The Baltimore defense could have done a few little things better, but the Giants didn’t even have a 20-yard play in the whole game.

Like the Buffalo loss, this blown lead was more on the offense than the defense. Can’t turn the ball over like that in the fourth quarter of a close game. Jackson is quickly playing himself out of any MVP conversation with these finishes.

Cowboys at Eagles: Second Quarter Does the Trick Again for 6-0 Eagles

I was about to sneak this game into the bottom section, but I figured Sunday Night Football always shows up somewhere near the top of the page. This game just did not have high expectations for me as I expected the Eagles to do exactly what they did: jump out to a big lead in the second quarter and hang on for the cover. It would have been a lot more interesting if this was Dak Prescott’s return game from surgery, but the timing was just off for that.

At the very least, we saw the inevitable result of when Cooper Rush plays a legit defense and a team that can take Dallas out of its comfort zone. He was brutal on the night with three picks before finding somewhat of a rhythm late, though Dallas had success running the ball too to crawl back from a 20-0 deficit to make it 20-17 in the fourth quarter.

I do think there is something troubling about the way the Eagles can be so good offensively in the second quarter and barely score in the other three quarters. That’s just setting them up for playoff disappointment, but they have time to work at it. Still, they led 20-3 after a scoreless first, and were outscored 14-6 after halftime.

But the touchdown drive in the fourth after Dallas cut it to 20-17 was great to see. The Eagles can grind games away with their rushing attack, and Jalen Hurts is just about unstoppable on those sneaks.

Still, I think Cris Collinsworth was much more enamored with this Philadelphia team than I am so far. The Cardinals were arguably more interesting at 7-0 last year. The 2019 49ers were 8-0. The 2018 Rams were 8-0 before losing in New Orleans (huge matchup), who moved to 7-1 at the time.

The NFC has had some teams really flash for a year before fizzling out quickly. The 2017 Eagles were one of them that actually came through for a championship. This is the best Philadelphia team since that one, and it has a chance to be better, but I guess I’m just looking for something a little more than “dominates second quarter, finishes in the 20-to-29 points range.”

And yeah, I’m sure they will drop 30+ on the Steelers in two weeks. Road games are where the Steelers get blown out.

Bengals at Saints: Good Homecoming for Burrow and Chase

Starting to sound like a broken record, but good job by the Saints to fight hard in a losing effort despite missing their quarterback, top three wide receivers, and best corner. They pushed the Bengals and led most of the game, but some poor tackling on Ja’Marr Chase gave the Bengals the win:

True story: that right there was the only play on the first game-winning touchdown drive of Joe Burrow’s NFL career. Andy Dalton still had a chance to lead a game-winning touchdown drive, but a huge sack led to an incompletion on fourth-and-17 to end the game.

The Bengals are at their best when Chase and Burrow are playing this way, but you still have to wonder how the Bengals (3-3) will fare after the Week 10 bye when they hopefully will be playing some real quarterbacks and not a bunch of backups or injury replacements.

As for the Saints (2-4), they join the Giants as the only teams to play six close games so far this season. Much better results for the Giants in those games.

Jets at Packers: We Can’t Play This Game Anymore, But Can We…

Regression is coming harder than a Peter North video for these Packers.

We knew they were going to miss Davante Adams and not win 13 games again, but these last few weeks have been rough.

I have Aaron Rodgers (last two weeks), Carson Wentz (2021 Colts), Jimmy Garoppolo (2020 49ers), and Alex Smith (2017 Chiefs) as the last four quarterbacks to lose consecutive starts as a favorite of at least 7.5 points. Sounds about right with the other three, but what exactly is going on here in Green Bay?

This is the second time in Rodgers’ career at home that he played in a game where neither team had 280 yards of offense (both finished at 278), and the first was January’s 10-3 playoff loss to the 49ers.

Before these last two losses to the Jets (7.5-point underdogs) and Giants (8-point underdogs), Green Bay was a 9.5-point favorite at home to the Patriots and had to force overtime to win that one. I think three times is enough to say the Packers shouldn’t be -7.5 against anyone these days.

The Jets just bullied Green Bay with four sacks and shutting down Aaron Jones (9 carries for 19 yards). It’s not like the offense was lighting it up. Zach Wilson passed for 110 yards. New York blew the game open in the middle of the third quarter by sacking Rodgers on third down at midfield to force a punt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead. Apparently, that’s still a problem for the special teams in Green Bay.

The Jets had their only other touchdown drive to answer a Rodgers touchdown with Breece Hall ripping off a 34-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. The Packers then shot themselves in the foot with a holding penalty and delay of game penalty, leading to Rodgers throwing an incompletion on fourth-and-14. The Jets put together a long field goal drive to take a 27-10 lead with 2:34 left, which meant Jordan Love time.

The 17-point home loss ties the worst of Rodgers’ career in a game he finished, matching the 37-20 margin in the 2011 Giants’ upset of the Packers in the NFC divisional round. That means you just witnessed Rodgers’ worst regular-season home loss of his career. Rodgers’ 16.9 QBR was the lowest of any quarterback in Week 6.

Have the last few weeks been the lowest point of Rodgers’ NFL career? You could make that argument given the expectations that were still there, even if the Giants and Jets look improved. Green Bay just looks that more on the decline.

49ers at Falcons: Still No Winning Record for Kyle Shanahan

Coming into Sunday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was 46-46 including playoff games. He was looking to get his career record above .500 for the first time in the NFL, so of course, the Falcons shut that shit down with the quickness.

I should have known something was sneaky about the way the spread kept moving towards Atlanta, but the smaller it got, the more I figured the 49ers would be safe. You know, because it’s Atlanta. Even if you don’t deserve the win, they are usually willing to give you one on a silver platter in the fourth quarter. Plus, that San Francisco defense has been so good, but when you take away Nick Bosa, Jimmie Ward, Arik Armstead (then some more), it becomes a problem.

Still, it was one of the surprises of the day to see the 49ers allow their first two touchdown passes since Week 1. Marcus Mariota finished 13-of-14 for 129 yards after hitting his first 13 passes.

  • By my count, the Falcons are the first team in NFL history to finish a game 13-of-14 passing.
  • Falcons are the first team since the 1983 Seahawks to throw one incompletion with fewer than 15 pass attempts in a game.
  • Falcons are the 11th team in NFL history to have one incomplete pass on at least 14 pass attempts.

Atlanta didn’t shred the run defense (40 carries for 168 yards with Mariota rushing for an efficient 50), but it paced the offense well enough that the lack of passing didn’t matter for them to get three touchdown drives.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco offense did not have a 15-yard gain until more than 53 minutes into the game. Jeff Wilson lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown to put the 49ers in an early 14-0 hole. They tied the game quickly but mismanaged the drives to end the first half and start the second, and that’s when Atlanta punched them again for a 28-14 lead. The 49ers never responded, and Shanahan will have to wait at least a few more games to get over .500. With the Chiefs up next, maybe wait until November for this to come up again.

But I think it’d be funny and fitting if he never gets there despite approaching 100 games in the league.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a not grotesque time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 6.

Jaguars at Colts: Matt Ryan still has something in the tank. Down his top two running backs and facing the team that blanked him 24-0 in Week 2, Ryan threw 58 passes without taking a sack. That’s something that has only been done 13 other times in NFL history. Ryan had one game in his career where he took zero sacks on even 48-plus attempts. He also had the 14th game in NFL history with 42 pass completions, getting familiar with his new receiving corps.

But what I really liked here was the ending and the way the Colts didn’t settle for a 50-yard field goal to win the game after some major kicking issues the last two years. It looked like they were going to do just that after Ryan took a 4-yard loss and just handed off for a 1-yard gain to bring up a third-and-13. Really, Frank Reich? But Ryan stood tall in the pocket, took the hit, and still got a deep throw away to rookie Alec Pierce, Midwest Cooper Kupp, for a 32-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left to take a 34-27 lead. The Jags didn’t have enough time to answer.

If the Colts are actually going to block, play with a fast tempo, and put up points like this? Might still pull this division out after all. Ryan moves into sole possession of fifth place with his 37th fourth-quarter comeback win.

Patriots at Browns: Guess who wasn’t at Robert Kraft’s wedding on Friday night cause he had a game to win this weekend? Sure, it’s the Lions and Browns, but the Patriots have won their last two games by 23-plus points each, shutting out the Lions’ top-ranked scoring offense and containing Nick Chubb better than anyone has this year. They also are doing it with rookie Bailey Zappe, who threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Zach Wilson and Justin Fields have yet to throw for 300 yards in the NFL. Coaching matters.

Seriously, imagine Tom Brady telling Bill Belichick that they need to ditch the team to attend Kraft’s oddly-timed wedding less than 48 hours before a road game.

Vikings at Dolphins: Miami is not making things easy on the NFL this year with these quarterback injuries. A thumb injury knocked Skylar Thompson out of this game, leading to one of the least expected 300-yard passing games ever from Teddy Bridgewater, who was in the concussion protocol. He was not starting this game because he apparently lacked preparation time by being in the protocol. Okay. He did well enough to get Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill heavily involved as the duo both went over 120 yards again. But it only led to 16 points as Bridgewater threw two picks and the Vikings racked up six sacks.

Minnesota had a strange game as Kirk Cousins only passed for 175 yards and took three sacks. The running game produced almost nothing until Dalvin Cook exploded for a 53-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings up 24-10 with 3:15 left, basically clinching the game. That drive was set up by Harrison Smith forcing Waddle to fumble in scoring territory while the Dolphins were driving in a 16-10 game. That’s the second week in a row the Vikings forced a wideout to fumble late in a game.

That is one way to get to 5-1, but man, I am not sure this team is a contender this year. But that probably says more about the NFC in general than just Minnesota.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Christ, this was supposed to be a shootout or at least a running back showcase. Seattle rookie Kenneth Walker did well with a touchdown and nearly 100 yards, but somehow Kyler Murray turned 222 passing yards and 100 rushing yards into an opening-drive field goal and zero offensive points on the last 10 drives. He also took six sacks. It’s about time we admit that Kliff Kingsbury is just Matt Rhule with better talent around him. Underachievers all the same.

Panthers at Rams: This game stayed competitive for about as long as Matthew Stafford felt like keeping Carolina in it. He added another pick-six bringing his career total to 29, tying Dan Marino and only trailing Brett Favre (32) now. Carolina’s offense managed just one field goal as new starter P.J. Walker had 60 yards passing despite playing into the final five minutes of the game. Again, the Rams are going to be okay against the cupcakes, but it is hard to see them winning in Tampa Bay, Kansas City, or Green Bay later this year. The schedule also has the 49ers next, Sean McVay’s kryptonite.

Next week: We go from the best week of the season to one of the worst (on paper) I’ve ever seen. Maybe Chiefs-49ers will still be interesting. Maybe Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino will play quarterback in Pittsburgh-Miami if these teams can’t keep their quarterbacks in the game.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

While Week 5 in the NFL did produce two huge blowout wins, it was another fairly competitive week with 10 comeback opportunities and a season-high eight game-winning drives, including one in all three island games.

The teams favored by at least seven points were just 1-4 ATS and two even lost outright. Last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, are both just 2-3. Only the Eagles (5-0) remain undefeated after playing their closest game of the season against an Arizona team that was 2021’s last undefeated team.

And yet, it may all just be leading to what 2021 should have led to: Chiefs vs. Bills being the real Super Bowl. Last year, it was the instant classic in the divisional round, but the Chiefs blew it in the AFC Championship Game, setting up that first Super Bowl without a top-three seed. Now the Chiefs and Bills are the talk of the league again as they get ready for their Week 6 showdown in Kansas City that could determine everything from the MVP to home-field advantage to the Super Bowl champion.

But before we get way ahead of things, there were a lot of close finishes, mind-numbing plays, and questionable calls on Sunday to go over.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Ravens: Winner Gets a Set of Steak Knives

Before this season is over, the Bengals and Ravens will have their say on which AFC team is represented in the Super Bowl. It was just hard watching them on Sunday night and not thinking that they are a tier below what we are soon going to see when the Bills and Chiefs meet again next week.

As far as 19-17 games in prime time go, this was one of the best ones with a good balance of offense, defense, and special teams with two great kickers. But there were also some egregious misses by both Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow. Jackson had a terrible pick when the Ravens were up 10-0, then he missed one of the easiest deep balls in the Next Gen Stats era on a fourth down. Burrow had an awful third quarter with a pick and one of the ugliest shovel passes on a fourth-and-goal that you’ll ever see.

Also, for the second week in a row I found myself disagreeing strongly with John Harbaugh’s fourth-quarter decision making. I thought last week he should have kicked the late field goal for the lead over Buffalo when Lamar’s fourth-down pass was intercepted. This time, Harbaugh looked like he was going for a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 3 with a 13-10 lead and 9:46 left, but he took a delay of game and kicked the field goal to go up 16-10.

I don’t like that move. Go for the conversion and try to get the 20-10 lead that is so valuable in this game. You leave some hope in a 16-10 game, not to mention you incentivize them to treat this drive as touchdown or bust.

The Bengals did a good job of chipping away on the drive, with Burrow eventually sneaking into the end zone himself with 1:58 left. Evan McPherson’s go-ahead extra point was just over the right crossbar, leaving no margin for error on that judgment of make or miss. Now if he could have done that against the Steelers in Week 1, the Bengals would be in better shape.

But in a 17-16 game, Jackson had nearly a full two minutes to set up Justin Tucker for the win. When he can use his legs to pick up a quick 19 yards, it’s almost too hard to stop him from doing just that. Eventually, Tucker came on to drill the 43-yard field goal at the buzzer, straight down the middle as if it was ever in doubt. The Ravens (3-2) take the lead over the Bengals (2-3) and the rest of the AFC North going into Week 6.

For all the hype about Burrow’s 941 yards passing last season against the Ravens, he finished this game with 217 yards, including one pass play of 20-plus yards. Ja’Marr Chase only had 50 yards on 12 targets. Tee Higgins had an ankle injury and barely played, receiving zero targets as he continues to deal with injuries almost weekly this season.

Both of these teams would comfortably win the AFC South if that was the division they called home this year. They should continue to battle for the AFC North as they are better than Pittsburgh and Cleveland right now. But are they on the same tier as Buffalo and Kansas City? I’m just not seeing it yet.

Steelers at Bills: Pickett’s First Start Is Biggest Pittsburgh Blowout Since 1989

Before I get into Kenny Pickett’s first start, I just want to say that the Bills played a great game in handing the Steelers their first 35-point loss since losing the 1989 opener to Cleveland by a 51-0 score. Right from the third play of the game when Josh Allen went over the top of the defense for a 98-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis, you knew the Steelers were in trouble.

Allen had not broken 5.6 yards per attempt in his first three starts against Pittsburgh, but with all the confidence in the world and no T.J. Watt to worry about, Allen shredded this defense for career highs in passing yards (424), YPA (13.7), and he threw four touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards. He even had 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone as Buffalo led 31-3.

Was it a perfect performance or even the most dominant the Bills have looked this season? No (Tennessee), there were some mistakes on special teams on a windy day, and Allen was intercepted by Levi Wallace in the end zone on a nice-looking grab by the defender. The Bills also fumbled at the 1-yard line while leading 31-3. But it was the kind of dominant performance that makes you think the Bills are going to be favored the rest of the way this season unless things drastically change.

As for the Steelers, we know they were a 14-point underdog for the first time since the 1970 merger, but this is the latest loss in a recent troubling string of road losses where they have been blown out, often before the fourth quarter:

  • Week 4 at Packers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 27-17)
  • Week 11 at Chargers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 41-37)
  • Week 12 at Bengals: Trailed 41-3 in 4Q (L 41-10)
  • Week 14 at Vikings: Trailed 29-0 in 3Q (L 36-28)
  • Week 16 at Chiefs: Trailed 36-3 in 4Q (L 36-10)
  • Wild Card at Chiefs: Trailed 42-14 in 4Q (L 42-21)
  • Week 5 at Bills: Trailed 38-3 in 4Q (L 38-3)

It gets worse.

  • From 1990 to 2010, the Steelers had three games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • From 2011 to 2020, the Steelers had five games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • The Steelers have trailed by 28+ points in five of their last 13 games.

It’s not good when you can ask “what’s the worst half of Steelers football in the last 30 years?” and you are getting a handful of choices from just the last 11 months.

I could not help but watch Kenny Pickett’s first NFL start and think about how Ben Roethlisberger probably feels very content with retirement now with the way the Steelers are getting blown out these days.

Pickett alone cannot turn this around, which might be why head coach Mike Tomlin said he is open to changes of all kinds after this 38-3 loss. But I’m not sure how you fix something like this in-season when things are so fundamentally flawed here.

But as for Pickett, there were some positives despite the 38-3 final. While I did go to Pitt, I cannot say I feel any real attachment or need to defend Pickett. I wasn’t even excited about the pick on draft night because I know the top quarterback lasting on the board that long is a bad sign of the class itself. But maybe I’m just prepping to become an apologist for him, because this team has a lot of holes that shouldn’t all be blamed on the quarterback.

I said last week that Pickett’s debut was about as encouraging as it could have been for someone who threw three interceptions. I might say the same thing about his first start being the most encouraging for someone who scored three points.

Among 34 quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in their first NFL start, Pickett is the only one to not score at least 13 points and the only one to lose by more than 26 points.

First, we know it was only three points because Chris Boswell missed two field goals on a windy day that he usually will make (33 and 45 yards). That’s why the Steelers became the 21st team in NFL history to throw 50 passes and score fewer than six points. It’s a rough thing to do, but it’s not the end of the world. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs did it last year against the Titans in a 27-3 loss.

Second, why were the Steelers even kicking field goals down 24-3 and 31-3? Tomlin never approached this game like he was a 14-point underdog starting a rookie quarterback on the road against the Super Bowl favorite. He acted like it was Big Ben trying to pull out an upset like he did in Week 1 last year thanks to a special teams bounce and some of that T.J. Watt greatness this defense is sorely missing. Tomlin mismanaged the moment by not appreciating the quality of opponent and his team’s predicament more.

Third, Pickett wasn’t bad by several measures. He was 34-of-52 for 327 yards, three sacks, a pick, and a 10-yard run. Pickett’s 56.7 QBR ranked 10th this week and was above average. The most egregious pass he threw early was the pick before halftime, but that was something he forced with 23 seconds left in a 31-3 game from his own 37. It didn’t lead to any points for Buffalo. It didn’t even matter.

Pickett’s receivers had a few costly drops too, including one off Diontae Johnson’s hands that was nearly intercepted. Johnson also could not hang onto a fourth-and-6 play in the third quarter that would have extended the drive in the red zone.

The points will come for this offense, but with the way the defense has handled good quarterbacks for the last year, the wins are not coming any time soon with Tom Brady and Jalen Hurts coming up.

The experience level of Pittsburgh’s quarterback cannot continue to overshadow the real problem of allowing an absurd number of points in so many big games in recent years. If only there was an obvious, common link between these losses that the team could put a finger on… But the standard is the standard.

Giants vs. Packers: Old-School Green Bay Loss, New-School Problems

Sunday began with a shocker in London when the Packers (-8) fell 27-22 to the Giants, who are now 4-1. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU when favored by at least six points but make that 22-1 now after his offense scored zero points after halftime.

This was almost like some old-school Tom Coughlin-coached upset by the Giants against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. First, there was a sack that knocked the Packers out of field goal range late in the third quarter. Daniel Jones then used his arms and legs to put together a 15-play, 91-yard touchdown march to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.

The Packers went three-and-out after three incompletions by Rodgers. Saquon Barkley continued his career season with a 41-yard catch and a 2-yard touchdown run to take a 27-20 lead with 6:08 left. Rookie coach Brian Daboll hasn’t really fixed Jones and the passing game, which has had a lot of injuries, but he is getting more timely plays from the young quarterback, and he absolutely has gotten Barkley on track to be the playmaker the Giants thought they were drafting years ago.

But just when you thought the Packers would tie the game with a touchdown like they did a week ago against the Patriots, that New York defense stepped up again. With two plays needing a yard from the New York 6, the Packers shunned their running backs and let Rodgers throw quick passes. The Giants pounced on both of them and knocked them down at the line. I think you have to feed Aaron Jones or A.J Dillon at least once there. Get the first down, then work the clock situation to get the touchdown and go to overtime or go for two and the win if you have a play you love.

But it was moot after some batted balls. Daboll miscalculated the clock as the Packers still had two timeouts to get the ball back. The Giants should have been running real offense instead of taking knees and an intentional safety, but they did that, giving Rodgers seven seconds to set up a Hail Mary, his specialty. But the best way to stop him on that is to not let him get the ball off. The Giants didn’t, forcing a fumble to end the game and seal the 27-22 upset win, Week 5’s shocker.

The 4-1 Giants are using a strategy much like the one that last carried them to the playoffs in 2016 (they lost to Green Bay in the wild card that year). Keep it close, close it out on defense. It is working for them, but with Dallas and Philadelphia in the same division, it is hard to see this lasting.

As for the Packers, there is still time to turn this around, but I am starting to think this identity-crisis offense without Davante Adams has the Packers less prepared than ever before to deal with the NFC playoff field. Could you imagine this team in January winning against the 49ers, Eagles, Buccaneers, or even Cowboys? Maybe they’d like a rematch with these Giants, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk like it was in 2016.

I think a dream playoff road for Rodgers this year would be getting the Vikings in the wild card round in prime time (Kirk Cousins at night), hoping the Eagles choke in their first playoff game as the No. 1 seed, and then going to Dallas to take out the Cowboys in the building where Rodgers seems to have all his best playoff moments. That might be the path, but that’s assuming Green Bay gets that far.

Maybe it’s too early to be talking about this, but the last two weeks in nearly losing to Bailey Zappe and losing to the Giants in London, it has been an eye-opening experience on where the Packers are these days.

Eagles at Cardinals: Was Kyler’s Gatorade Spiked Too?

It took until Week 5 before the Eagles did not lead for the entire second half of a game. But the Cardinals are a better offense with Rondale Moore available, and Marquise Brown is starting to make an impact with Kyler Murray.

The Eagles were also not historically dominant in the second quarter this time, getting outscored 10-7 after starting the game with a 14-0 lead. Arizona (+5.5) kept it close as offensive holding penalties plagued the Eagles in the third quarter. After Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth, the Eagles turned to the running game with eight straight runs out the gate. Jalen Hurts is all but automatic on those sneaks with a yard to go. He had a couple of those conversions on a long drive that consumed nearly eight minutes, but the Eagles were unable to put the ball in the end zone, settling for a 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left.

Murray had plenty of time in a 20-17 game, but this is not a spot where you feel like you can trust him, coach Kliff Kingsbury, and certainly not new kicker Matt Ammendola, who was just jettisoned from the Chiefs after a bad game against the Colts.

Murray moved the offense into the fringes of field-goal range, but he spiked a ball on first down after a completion when he had plenty of time to call another play. He then scrambled for 9 yards, then quickly did a spike again to bring up fourth-and-1 with 22 seconds left. Did Murray not know that he started his slide early and was spotted short of a first down? Maybe, but he did not need to spike it with it being third down.

If you saw Ammendola with the Chiefs, you probably knew what was coming next. From 43 yards out, he was about as wide right as Mike Vanderjagt on a clutch playoff field goal. The Eagles escape this one with a 20-17 win and will have a big showdown with the Cowboys (4-1) next Sunday night.

Falcons at Buccaneers: Did the Roughing Flag Come with Another PPP Loan?

The sad state of the NFC South where a battle of 2-2 teams with a 10-point spread is a game for first place in Week 5. But the Falcons never had much of a chance without Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, their two most proven skill players. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay led 21-0 to start the fourth quarter.

But wouldn’t it have been something if the Falcons, trying to avoid going 0-11 against Tom Brady, erased a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to beat him and take over first place in the division?

The Tampa offense started stalling while the Atlanta offense found some success on the ground after the defense wore down. Just like that, it was a 21-15 game with 4:38 left after the Falcons wisely went for two.

It looked like Brady was going to stall again in the four-minute offense after Grady Jarrett sacked him on a third down with three minutes left. However, one of the worst roughing the passer penalties you’ll ever see was called to gift the Buccaneers a first down. True LOAT stuff and superstar rules right here:

That is literally just a sack. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t to the head/neck region, and he didn’t do the whole “body weight” nonsense that came up years ago. It’s just a sack, but maybe the ref felt sorry for a 45-year-old man going through a publicized divorce?

It took six dropbacks before Brady made a play on the drive, converting a third down to Mike Evans to end the game, never giving the Falcons the ball back with a one-score deficit.

So many fan bases will be happy once Brady retires for good, but if Atlanta fans want to lay claim to being sick of him the most, I cannot argue against them. He is still going to win this division and get a home playoff game. With the Rams fading, it may take a Philadelphia/San Francisco/Dallas to put an end to this team in the playoffs short of the Super Bowl.

Cowboys at Rams: Coming Down the Mountain

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this game, because it really does break down in simple terms.

The Rams (2-3) have been held to 9-or-10 points against the Bills, 49ers, and Cowboys in their losses. Those are three elite defenses this year, if not the three best. The Rams looked just fine offensively, albeit with Cam Akers sucking at the goal line, in wins over the Falcons and Cardinals, which are two lousy defenses. This offense is not built to excel against elite defenses anymore with the deficiencies along the offensive line (Andrew Whitworth’s retirement plus injuries), running back (see Akers sucking and being a lesser player than Darrell Henderson), and the fact that Cooper Kupp is about the only receiver worth a damn, especially in Matthew Stafford’s eyes. He takes five-to-seven sacks against these elite defenses as he can’t seem to find anyone open but Kupp. They miss that second threat like Robert Woods or Odell Beckham Jr. They don’t even have Van Jefferson this year and it shows up when they play a good defense. The “fvck them draft picks” team finally reached the top of the mountain last year, but this is not a surprising, rocky path for them to take coming back down it to join the rest of the pack in mediocrity.

As for the Cowboys (4-1), this was the first win for backup QB Cooper Rush where they really just babied him with the dominant defense and running game (30 carries for 164 yards). If Dak Prescott threw for 102 yards and lost 26 yards on three sacks, I’d say the Cowboys got smashed and he left the game injured. Rush has done a good job, but they’re not beating Philadelphia next week or for the division with this level of quarterback play. The challenge for Mike McCarthy is to make sure the defense and running game continue to play at this high level when Prescott returns. Don’t just “rally around the backup” and rest on your laurels “when #4 is back.” Play like a great damn team every week if you want to actually achieve something, like maybe your first NFC Championship Game appearance since the 1995 season.

Chargers at Browns: Boo-urns Brissett (and Brandon)

Not often do you see a running back shootout in the NFL, but Austin Ekeler and Nick Chubb put on a show in this 30-28 thriller. Both scored multiple touchdowns and Ekeler even outrushed Chubb, 173-134.

But Cleveland fans probably wish the running backs could have decided this game instead of the quarterback. I tried to warn people about Jacoby Brissett being terrible with the game on the line:

Sure, he can avoid mistakes for most of the game, but this is already his third time getting picked in the final minutes this season in close losses. The first two were desperation throws against the Jets and Falcons. This one was just foolishness in a 30-28 game with barely under three minutes left. It was third-and-7 at the Los Angeles 9, so Brissett had a go-ahead field goal in his back pocket. Instead, he scrambled and forced a throw and did not even see the defender (Alohi Gilman).

Brutal stuff. But the Chargers were not going to let this one go without some Chargering. The offense got one first down to make Cleveland burn all three timeouts but not the second to clinch the game. They faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:14 left.

Head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it at midfield, and Justin Herbert’s pass was incomplete. The Browns had 70 seconds left at the Los Angeles 45, basically needing a few yards for a reasonable game-winning field goal attempt.

I hated the decision by Staley, who has not impressed me for quite a number of games now after his promising start last year.

  • If you are leading 31-28, then going for it is justifiable, if not preferable. Don’t fear the game-tying field goal or overtime. Trust you can convert a yard with a high-percentage play (QB sneak).
  • If you are facing a dangerous quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or a team with an incredible kicker like Justin Tucker who can make from 60+, then going for it is justifiable, if not the only real option.

But you are only up 30-28 and you are facing one of the worst quarterbacks on record at game-winning drives. His offense’s biggest threat is a running back (Chubb) who likely won’t see the field on this drive. Just punt it deep and make him drive a long field.

But the Chargers gave Cleveland a gift that should have bit them in the ass. Brissett even got the 10 yards and new set of downs you figured they needed, but a stuffed run of Kareem Hunt – see, not Chubb – really hurt Cleveland’s chances. Then Brissett threw incomplete twice and the rookie kicker, Cade York, had to make a 54-yard field goal to save the day. He beat the Panthers on a 58-yard field goal in Week 1, so this is doable. However, this time he missed, and the Browns lost another close one.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is just 3-14 (.176) at 4QC/GWD opportunities. Only Carolina’s Matt Rhule (0-16) is worse among active coaches.

Hurry-Up Finish

Most weeks I am still wide awake when I say I need to get to bed, but I really am tired this week after barely sleeping last night. So, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 5:

Titans at Commanders: I will certainly mock Carson Wentz for throwing a game-ending interception, his third attempt from the 2-yard line in a 21-17 game’s closing seconds. But that really was a great defensive play by David Long. Almost like James Harrison in Super Bowl 43 without the crazy return touchdown.

The Titans (3-2) have won three in a row despite scoring zero points in the fourth quarter this season, the first team since the 2005 49ers (ALEX’s rookie year) to go scoreless in the fourth quarter through five games. These Titans are barely hanging on against the Raiders, Colts, and now Commanders, and they still might win the division. Speaking of which…

Texans at Jaguars: You can replace Doug Marrone with Urban Meyer or Doug Pederson, but apparently this sad sack of a franchise can’t beat the trash-heap version of the Houston Texans. That’s nine losses in a row to Houston, and this is probably the most disappointing yet cause the Jaguars were 7-point favorites and expected to run wild on Houston’s defense. It did not happen, and instead, No. 1 pick Travon Walker made a boneheaded play by throwing down Davis Mills in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter on a third-and-20. That led to the game-winning touchdown, and Trevor Lawrence wasn’t able to answer again. He is now 1-8 at 4QC and 2-9 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Either we gassed up the Jaguars a bit too much after those wins over the Colts and Chargers, or the Texans inexplicably have their number. Either way, what a weird cat turd of a division race this is.

49ers at Panthers: That double-clutching pick-six Baker Mayfield threw may be the highlight/lowlight of his time in Carolina. The play we remember him for. His arm just doesn’t look strong enough for the NFL right now. It was surprising to see him throw for 215 yards in this matchup, but the 22-point loss was no surprise.

The biggest surprise is if I wake up and find that Matt Rhule isn’t gone already. It’s clearly not going to work in Carolina for him (or Baker). Just in case this is the last time, here are those updated Rhule numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-24 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-25 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-27 when not leading by double digits at halftime

As for the 49ers, nice win but they need to stop racking up the injuries. Nick Bosa was the latest star to go down. The 49ers were the only NFC West team to win on Sunday, moving to 3-2 while the rest of the division is 2-3. This defense and the yards after contact/catch from Deebo Samuel may be plenty enough to win the title.

Dolphins at Jets: The Jets were my upset pick this week, but even I was surprised to see them hang 40 points on Miami with Zach Wilson scoring another touchdown and rookie back Breece Hall gaining 197 yards from scrimmage. They did catch a break with Teddy Bridgewater leaving with a head injury after one pass and a grounding penalty for a safety. Third-string rookie Skylar Thompson was hardly a nightmare, but he did have a success rate of 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter when the Jets blew open a 19-17 lead into a 40-17 final.

Miami missed a 54-yard field goal that would have given the Dolphins the lead with 13:15 left, then Thompson fumbled on the next drive, leading to a 5-yard touchdown drive. That basically put this one away, and now the 3-2 Jets have the tiebreaker over the 3-2 Dolphins. Life comes at you fast.

Bears at Vikings: I don’t know if the Earth can handle all these 4QC/GWD by the Vikings:

This was the third in a row and maybe the most shocking since Minnesota completed its first 18 passes of the game and led 21-3. Letting Justin Fields lead a comeback to take a 22-21 lead can’t be good for Minnesota’s playoff prospects, but to Kirk Cousins’ credit, he led another game-winning drive and even snuck in the winning touchdown himself. Fields actually seemed up to the task of answering with a touchdown, but a great defensive play by Cameron Dantzler forced Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a Minnesota fifth-round pick in 2021 (double agent?), to fumble with 1:01 left.

I honestly don’t know if the 2022 Vikings (4-1) are all that good since they’ve largely shown us the same things they always did under Mike Zimmer: Win over Green Bay, close wins over the NFC bottom dwellers, and Cousins shit his pants on a Monday night in Philly. A trip to Buffalo in Week 10 will be the next big challenge for a team that could actually be 7-1 going into that one.

Seahawks at Saints: Sean Payton had to love the Taysom Hill three-hour love fest this game turned into. Hill rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score from 60 yards out, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass, and recovered a fumble. The Seahawks had some explosive plays on offense again behind Geno Smith, but he took a badly-timed 14-yard sack on a third down, and the Saints were able to run out the clock in a 39-32 win.

Lions at Patriots: The Lions went from 281 combined points in four games, including last week’s 48-45 loss to Seattle, to getting blanked 29-0 by third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Patriots. Was this Matt Patricia’s revenge game? Amon-Ra St. Brown returned and had four catches for 18 yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson went from 179 yards and two scores last week to one 6-yard catch in this game. This was some extreme regression, and arguably the biggest dud ever laid by a Dan Campbell team.

Next week: It’s not going to reach the hype of 2007 Patriots vs. Colts, but 2022 Bills at Chiefs is a huge one. Maybe the biggest game this regular season because getting home-field advantage is going to be very important for Buffalo to maintain its favorite status for the Super Bowl. I will be all over this matchup this week.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

I said in this weekend’s predictions that we would get some crucial breaking points to this season with the games on tap. Sure enough, the games were very competitive again. In fact, with Monday Night Football still to come, we again had 12 games with a comeback opportunity after 12 last week, the second-highest total in the last seven seasons:

Technically, I should say a 4QC/GWD opportunity since the Bills-Ravens game was not a 4QC opportunity for either. More on that semantics mess shortly.

Speaking of Buffalo, Sunday seemed to reroute the course to a place many were expecting it to go: Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Round III in the AFC playoffs, and that huge matchup in Week 6 at Arrowhead is looming.

Did we get much clarity on the MVP race? Not really, because annoying rain made the games in Baltimore and Philly sloppy for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts.

But we learned that Bailey Zappe is a real NFL player, Geno Smith might get an NFL MVP vote before Russell Wilson, the Mitch Trubisky era should be dead in Pittsburgh, and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs run it up on Tom Brady’s ass (in prime time too) like no other.

Now if only the Chiefs could have done this in the playoffs a couple times, then they’d be a dynasty instead of me asking if there’s still an elite team in the league. But let’s just enjoy the ride, and any Sunday is a nice one when you hit +13118.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Ravens: Most Valuable Pick of the Season

When I picked the Bills to win it all before the season, I pointed out that the schedule was going to make them so battle tested for the playoffs. Just the early lineup is incredible with Kansas City and Green Bay to come soon before the bye. But at Baltimore was a big test too, because we know the Ravens are usually tough to beat in that building with John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.

I also wanted to see how the Bills would react in a close game. They had lost the last 12 games they trailed in the fourth quarter of, and their last 20 regular-season wins were all by 10-plus points, tying the NFL record set by the 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

Well, one of those streaks was snapped on Sunday, and the Bills can thank Harbaugh and Jackson for that.

Blame it on the weather if you want, but the wet conditions were not as bad as 49ers-Bears in Week 1. The weather was not helpful, but the top two MVP candidates were also not doing their teams many favors on Sunday. Josh Allen was wide of the mark three snaps into the game and his interception set up a 4-yard touchdown drive for Jackson.

After Buffalo’s running backs put the ball on the ground and got stopped on a third-and-1, the Ravens were up 20-3 in the second quarter. We may have been looking at a blowout as the only comeback of more than 10 points in the Sean McDermott era was a 16-point comeback against the 2019 Jets on opening day.

But the front-running team ran into the team that blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. Baltimore mismanaged a pass-happy three-and-out late in the first half, and the Bills were able to put together a touchdown drive to make it 20-10. Something doable.

Third quarter started the same way with a false start and three failed passing plays by the Ravens, who were getting the running backs going early in the game for a change this year. Allen scrambles keyed a field goal drive, and then he tied the game up his next chance with his legs on an 11-yard run.

The Bills didn’t have starting safety Jordan Poyer in the Miami loss. They already lost Micah Hyde for the season too at safety. Poyer was back on Sunday and made his presence felt by running up to catch an interception by Jackson on a ball tipped at the line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But after the Bills went three-and-out, Jackson looked like he was going to shake off a rough passing day with a 95-yard touchdown drive. However, he and J.K. Dobbins were stopped short of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 2 with 4:09 left.

There is at least an argument for going for it in this spot, but given you haven’t scored all half, and the weather stinks, and your kicking unit is superb, I think you kick the field goal there. Make the front-running team that hasn’t come from behind to win in the fourth quarter in over two years put together a drive. The Bills are so overconfident at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would try a fourth-and-goal in a 23-20 game if it was within reason. And they might not get it like in Miami or against Tennessee last year.

I did not like the decision, but then again, I disagreed with most of Harbaugh’s close-game decisions last year when the Ravens kept blowing all these games. Sure enough, Jackson tried to force a pass after pressure got to him and only Poyer was there in the end zone to catch it for a second interception.

Jackson went from second in MVP odds to tied with Jalen Hurts (+550) for third place behind Allen (+300) and Mahomes (+500). I can’t say it’s not justified this week. Blame the defense all you want for the Miami meltdown, but in this game, the Ravens were scoreless on their final five drives with two fourth-quarter picks by Jackson. He passed for just 144 yards, and star tight end Mark Andrews also did not help shed his “big game choker” label with two catches for 15 yards.

On the other side, Allen was able to put the game-winning drive together this week, only needing a field goal. I didn’t love the angle on the big roughing the passer penalty that put them in field goal range, but it looked like an excessive takedown after he released the ball.

Singletary had some key gains on Sunday, and he put the ball inside the 3. The Bills were able to make the 21-yard field goal with no time left to get the 23-20 win.

This is a rare game that was tied to start the fourth quarter, and the only other score was a game-winning field goal on the final snap. You see maybe one of these a season, but we already have two this year with Bears-Texans and this. That’s also why it’s just a game-winning drive for Buffalo and technically not a 4QC.

That will just have to come later for the team, but this was a very important comeback win. The Bills will have that confidence now that they can come back if a game starts ugly like this one sure did.

But for the Ravens, I am not sure where their psyche is after blowing two 17-point leads at home in a couple of weeks. This is a franchise that had three such blown leads in 1996-2021, and two of those were in the early days of the bad defenses (1996-97). The only other one was in 2004 against the Bengals, a game that showed us the potential for Carson Palmer and his receivers.

Speaking of the Bengals, that’s Baltimore’s next opponent on Sunday night. It’s another front-running team with the quarterback and firepower to destroy this defense. This season could really turn on its head for Baltimore by Week 5 when it should be 4-0 and the talk of the AFC. Instead, here we are.

It’s a Bills vs. Chiefs conference until proven otherwise.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Old Man, Look at My Highlight

If only Super Bowl LV looked like this for Kansas City, but it was never going to happen with the rotated offensive line that night. The Chiefs really seemed to take this rematch personally and came out on fire with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff setting up a quick 7-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.

The Chiefs led by double digits for the final 49:01. This is only the seventh time in Tom Brady’s career where he trailed by double digits at the end of all four quarters. The only time the game felt in doubt was in the second quarter when the Chiefs were stopped for the first time after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped a wide-open fourth-and-1 pass. But on the very next play, the Kansas City defense, which was not outstanding on the night, saved its best disguised blitz for Brady to force a fumble and set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for another short-field score and 28-10 lead.

The Buccaneers allowed more points in the first half (28) than they did in the first three games combined (27). The Chiefs really seemed to save up some A+ plays on offense for this matchup, and Patrick Mahomes may have thrown his most creative touchdown pass yet.

The game really did remind me of when the 2005 Colts went into New England on a Monday night and just walloped them 40-21. If we got the Chiefs this prepared and fired up for every game, this team could go undefeated. They didn’t punt until the final minute when they were up 41-31.

This is now the eighth time in Brady’s career where his team allowed 40 points, and half of those games have been against Andy Reid’s Chiefs (all in prime time in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022). It is only the sixth time a team scored at least 40 offensive points on a Brady team. But no one has ever scored more than 42 on him, and Mahomes threw away that chance with an ill-advised pick with just under five minutes left. But even at 41-24, this one was over early. The Buccaneers finished with 53 passes to six runs (3 yards).

The Chiefs are never not interesting under Reid and Mahomes. They looked as good as ever against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but not so hot against the Chargers and Colts in between. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are not playing complimentary football and haven’t looked that good period this season. While the offense had its best game of 2022, the defense had its worst game in the last three years since Brady arrived.

This is the eighth time Brady has trailed by 17-plus points in a game with Tampa Bay since 2020. He had eight such games with New England in his final six seasons in 2014-19.

I thought the Bucs would split at home with Green Bay and the Chiefs, but they lost both games. I still would not panic unless Atlanta comes in there on Sunday and wins too. But something has looked off with this team all season.

Patriots at Packers: Green Bay Nearly Loses to Fallout’s Vault Boy

Bill Belichick’s Patriots pushing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers into overtime at Lambeau is a story you could have believed last week. If I said they’d get the fourth career pick-six of Rodgers before halftime, you might believe it less. If I said they’d start Brian Hoyer and lose 27-24 in overtime, you probably wouldn’t believe it. If I said they played most of the game with the Fallout Vault Boy turned Vault Man – someone named Bailey Zappe – you definitely would have said I was making up some Madden player.

But it all happened. If the Patriots had just a little more faith in Zappe, they may have pulled it off in overtime too after getting Rodgers to go three-and-out after the Packers won the coin toss and received. But even after getting the ball at their own 49, needing just a field goal to win, the Patriots ran twice, and Zappe threw incomplete on third-and-5 before a punt. He’d never see the ball again.

Rodgers started cooking with his wide receivers and set up a field goal as the final play. Mason Crosby was reliable from 31 yards out, and Matt LaFleur escaped breaking his 21-0 (now 22-0) mark as a favorite of at least six points.

Isn’t it something that the only game with a spread above 6.5 (Packers were -9.5) was the one game to go to overtime? Typical bizarro NFL.

For Rodgers, it is his 30th game-winning drive, becoming the 24th quarterback to have that many. It is also his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win, becoming the 35th quarterback to join that club. It is also notable that it took him 239 games to do it. Only former teammate Brett Favre (222) also needed over 200 games. Something about Green Bay…

But from a 3-19 4QC record to 20-45, that’s a respectable turnaround for Rodgers since the 2012 season. With the way the Packers are playing against injury-weakened teams, Rodgers may need more of these than any season before.

Jaguars at Eagles: Probably Not a Super Bowl Preview

Talking this up like it was some surprise Super Bowl preview, like the 1999 Rams playing the Titans on Halloween, was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just some early excitement for how these teams have started in 2022.

Even when the Jaguars took an early 14-0 lead, I saw no reason to panic about the Eagles. Jacksonville got a pick-six off a wildly tipped ball, then saved a second touchdown drive after recovering a fumble at the 3-yard line that was there for the taking.

The weather was not extreme, but the conditions were not helpful to offenses. The Eagles just happened to handle them better and converted three times on fourth down with Jalen Hurts being pretty unstoppable there. I did want to see how this team would react to an early deficit after cruising through games to start 3-0. They handled it well with A.J. Brown having another big game against a former division foe.

Trevor Lawrence handled the wet conditions about as well as the aliens in Signs would handle a dixie cup of water. He lost four fumbles, which apparently hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever by one player:

Even when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (RIP) set the NFL record with seven fumbles in a game in 1964, he appears to only have lost three out of seven. Going 4-for-4 is some cruel stuff, and the last one came in the final two minutes with the Jaguars trying to tie the game at 29 after getting it to 29-21.

But even that comeback opportunity was set up by a suspect decision from the Eagles to try a fourth-and-3 pass at the Jacksonville 21 at the two-minute warning. Apparently there was an injury situation to the kicker, which would be about the only good reason to not kick the 39-yard field goal and make this an 11-point game. Lawrence was always unlikely to drive for eight points, but it was still a gamble that could have gone wrong.

The Eagles are the last unbeaten team (4-0), and I am starting to wonder if 14-3 was not a crazy prediction as that was the number I had them at on my first run through the schedule for all 32 teams this year. There will be tougher tests ahead, but maybe not that many if things continue playing out as they have.

Jets at Steelers: Move, Mitch, Get Out the Way

This would be the typical Pittsburgh letdown loss at home to a bad opponent, but the fact is it’s not a letdown if you no longer have high expectations. The Jets and Steelers might as well be in the same tier, and had it not been for the Bengals twice failing to execute a short kick in Week 1, Pittsburgh would be the NFL’s only 0-4 team right now.

But while the Jets got their young quarterback, Zach Wilson, back in action today where he showed off some incredible athleticism, maybe Mike Tomlin had seen enough of Mitch Trubisky after another bad half with a couple really long field goals to show for it.

He made the only logical, inevitable move he could by starting the second half with rookie Kenny Pickett, and the only question is why didn’t he do it to start what was going to be the team’s most winnable game for many weeks?

The Steelers came out flat as ever and were down 10-0 to the Jets, but once Pickett entered a 10-6 game in the third quarter, you could see the offense looked like it got a shot in the arm. Sure, his first pass was technically intercepted, but it was an aggressive deep ball down the middle of the field, and Chase Claypool made a soft effort on it.

Sure, no one is going to get crazy about a quarterback sneak for a touchdown, but it’s nice to see the Steelers will let Pickett use that weapon in the playbook. But the 82-yard drive between the third and fourth quarters really showed why the Steelers had to make the move. Pickett looked decisive and he knew how to get George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth involved. He had some timing routes on intermediate throws to the sideline instead of just more go routes 30-plus yards down the field. He scrambled for a third-down conversion.

He looked pretty damn good, then he got a little greedy and was intercepted on a more dangerous throw that was again tipped with 3:34 left. The Jets, now down 20-17, got a fine drive out of Wilson, who showed a ton of escapability on the day. Maybe not the best decision maker yet, but he can really move around out there. It was another game where the Steelers dearly missed T.J. Watt.

Wilson was able to drive 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the staple to old home letdowns when the defense would blow it in the final seconds for a Roethlisberger-led team. Rookie back Breece Hall just reached over the end zone before fumbling for the score.

Pickett’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone on a Hail Mary in a 24-20 loss. He finished 10-of-13 for 120 yards with three picks, so all his passes were caught by someone even if they were two tipped picks and a Hail Mary pick. Frankly, it might be the most encouraging three-pick debut you’ve ever seen.

Pickens and Freiermuth had 187 of Pittsburgh’s 204 receiving yards. They’ll need to get Diontae Johnson more involved next time, but I actually have faith now that the offense will be better if they go forward with Pickett as the starter. I don’t know how you bench Trubisky and not have the move be permanent. You cannot be afraid to put Pickett in the game in Buffalo. He is a 24-year-old rookie. Let’s see how he stacks up against the favorite in the league on the road.

The bigger concern is that this defense is a waste without Watt available. With the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles coming up next, it is hard not to see the Steelers sitting at 2-6 or 1-7 going into the bye.

Are they the worst team in the league? Absolutely not. Can they still win about seven games if Pickett is named the starter, Watt returns after the bye, and that schedule lightens up a lot? Definitely. But they can’t put the clamps on Pickett and program him to be super conservative. The defense isn’t good enough to hold up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets.

The standard has changed in more ways than one.

Browns at Falcons: Thanks for Screwing Up My 26-Points Stat

One of my favorite facts for Week 4 was that Atlanta and Cleveland were the only two teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Of course, neither would get past 23 points in this game, but for the second week in a row, the Atlanta defense held at the end by intercepting a Jacoby Brissett pass in a three-point game.

Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes for 139 yards, and his running game hooked him up with 199 yards. The defense was also solid despite some decent totals for Nick Chubb. But twice in the first half, the Browns had the ball inside the 2-yard line and only came away with one field goal.

Mariota did not do much, but he at least hit a deep ball for 42 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 2:28 left. Things went downhill quickly for Cleveland’s answer drive, and on a third-and-23, Brissett’s desperation pass was intercepted with 55 seconds left to end the game.

Honestly, I am pissed that Brissett/Kevin Stefanski are this bad at comebacks, and not just because I had Over 47.5 points. But a field goal to make it 23-23 and bring up overtime meant it would have taken one of these teams to score 26-plus points to get the win, which would have been poetic given their starts to the season. Oh well.

The Falcons are suddenly 2-2 just like Tampa Bay and will battle them for first place next week. I say bet the farm that Brady doesn’t lose a third in a row at home to a team of this caliber, but I know what the most amusing outcome of Week 5 would be.

Saints vs. Vikings: Double Doink

I almost feel better about the Saints after this loss than I do about the Vikings after the win, the second week in a row they had to escape at the end over a team they were favored to beat.

For not having Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Andy Dalton did a solid job filling in for Jameis Winston in London. These teams were up and down the field for most of the second half, with the Saints even taking a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

The officiating definitely bailed out Minnesota on a 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty to wipe out a third-and-8 incompletion. There was DPI, but Adam Thielen also should have been penalized for shoving a player by the face. That was a big break, which the Vikings turned into an easy little 3-yard touchdown run for Justin Jefferson, who was un-guardable again this week (147 yards).

In typica Vikings fashion, they missed the extra point to keep it a 25-22 game after a lot of people had Vikings -3.5 bets. The Saints were able to answer with a 60-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who was then one-upped by Greg Joseph’s 47-yard field goal after the Vikings looked like they were going to screw themselves by settling for the long kick.

Dalton hit one deep ball to rookie Chris Olave, who then almost made a spectacular diving catch at the sideline to help make the field goal shorter. But he gave Lutz another chance to send it to overtime. Lutz had the distance from 61 yards, but he hit the left upright and the crossbar without getting the lucky bounce on either. Saints lost 28-25 and will be 1-3 with a slew of penalties, turnovers, and other sloppy play to blame.

But was it the kind of game that makes me think the Vikings will do just fine in a playoff setting against the Eagles or Rams or Packers or Buccaneers? Absolutely not.

Titans at Colts: Maybe Tennessee Is Still the Best AFC South Team?

The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 has been Tennessee. After turning to Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have controlled the division, one that the Colts have not won since 2014. Matt Ryan was supposed to make a difference this year, but things have not gotten off to a good start.

In fact, the Colts have trailed by at least 17 points in every game except the upset win over the Chiefs, which is probably going to look stranger over time.

Like last week, pass protection was an issue with Ryan getting blown up and losing the ball on a sack on the first drive of the game. Like last week, the Titans quickly rang up 24 points on a team before hanging on for dear life in the second half.

Like he did in Houston in Week 1, Ryan used his arm to lead a comeback attempt since Jonathan Taylor (20 carries, 42 yards) and the running game has disappeared behind the miserable line performance this season. I mean, the guy should have stayed in Atlanta if this is how the Colts are going to play around him.

But after turning a 24-3 deficit into a manageable 24-17 game, the Colts were scoreless on their last three drives. Nearly a second strip-sack of Ryan knocked the Colts out of scoring range going into the fourth quarter, a quarter where they would hit completions of 34 and 44 yards and score zero points on the two drives. Taylor lost a fumble with 8:40 left and just shy of the red zone.

Then Ryan’s third sack of the day was a killer in no man’s land with the Colts facing third-and-13 at the Tennessee 25. Not only did Ryan lose eight yards to bring up fourth-and-21, but the clock was running to the two-minute warning, losing that fourth clock stoppage after new kicker Chase McLaughlin’s 51-yard field goal was wide left with 1:58 left.

The Colts needed a three-and-out to get the ball back, but Tannehill converted a third-and-4 with a short pass to end the game at 24-17. Are the Titans still the best team in the division? I don’t know, but the upcoming schedule (@WAS, IND, @HOU) certainly gives them a shot to start 5-2 with three key AFC South wins.

Broncos at Raiders: Running with the Devil

A game between Derek Carr and Russell Wilson sounds made for a 4QC/GWD, but this was really a day for the running backs. Melvin Gordon had another brutal fumble that was returned for a huge touchdown, Javonte Williams may have suffered a season ending knee injury, and Josh Jacobs put the Las Vegas offense on his back 175 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing) and two touchdowns in a 32-23 win.

Carr only passed for 188 yards, but he did his best Wilson impersonation by running five times for 42 yards (kneeldowns excluded) and some of the biggest first downs in the game, including a 20-yard scramble before halftime to set up a field goal and a 9-yard scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter after Denver cut the lead to 25-23. Carr is usually one of the least valuable rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, so this game was uncharacteristically huge for him.

The fumble by Gordon and the no-show third quarter by the offense really hurt Denver, which is now 2-2. But the Raiders were finally able to put together a winning formula this season. Just don’t expect it to be a repeatable one, especially against the Chiefs next Monday night.

Seahawks at Lions: Coach an Campbell Cause He Ain’t Got No ‘D’

I am not sure which fact here is most surprising:

  • A team coached by Dan Campbell with Jared Goff at quarterback is playing in historic shootouts, including Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks with Geno Smith, and in a game where the Lions were without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and D.J. Chark.
  • The 2022 Lions have 281 combined points in their first four games, setting an NFL record for a team’s first four games.
  • This was the 13th game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 45 points, but it is the first one to end 48-45.
  • Goff has been the quarterback in two of the last three games this high scoring (54-51 against Mahomes and the 2018 Chiefs is obviously the other one).
  • Seattle is the first team in NFL history to have a wire-to-wire win with no ties after 0-0 despite allowing more than 42 points.
  • The 2009 Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in the wild card playoffs in a game they never trailed, but it was tied 38-38 and 45-45 in the fourth quarter before going to overtime.
  • The previous record for points allowed in a wire-to-wire, no ties after 0-0 win is 42 points, done by the 1998 Cardinals at Washington and the 2017 Jaguars at Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Both games ended 45-42.
  • The Seahawks (48) scored more points in Detroit than they had thru Week 3 (47) and more than the Broncos had (43) going into Sunday.
  • Geno Smith’s completion percentage (77.3%) is the highest in NFL history through four games of a season (min. 125 passes).

Pretty bonkers. Seattle was so good at answering scores with scores, that the last time Detroit had the ball while down by 1-to-8 points was when it was 17-9 in the middle of the second quarter. Still, the Seahawks had to recover an onside kick at 1:06 and run for one more first down to finally put the Lions away.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 4:

Commanders at Cowboys: Choose your Ginger! You knew I was backing Cooper Rush, who is now 4-0 as a starter and ranked No. 4 in QBR (74.0). It’s really not a quarterback controversy in Dallas unless Dak Prescott comes back and starts playing as poorly as he did in Week 1. It was nice to see Michael Gallup back for the Cowboys, catching a touchdown and drawing 65 yards on two pass interference penalties.

But Wentz really struggled again despite only taking two sacks this time. You have to wonder how short that leash is if Ron Rivera senses he might not be making it to 2023 in Washington if this keeps up. Most of the league is keeping it close in the fourth quarter right now. The Commanders have not in the last two weeks in two division losses.

Bears at Giants: Daniel Jones left with an ankle injury, but before he left, he still finished with the highest QBR (92.3) at ESPN for Week 4. How did he do it?

Exactly as you imagined. He ran for two touchdowns, or two more than what the Bears had after settling for four sub-40 yard field goals. You knew this would be a low-scoring battle of teams who don’t legitimately look like the 3-1 record they would have after a win. But given the Jones injury and backup Tyrod Taylor leaving with a concussion, the Giants may have to travel overseas to face the Packers with Davis Webb at quarterback.

Chargers at Texans: Austin Ekeler went from scoring no touchdowns in three games to three scores on Sunday. Play every running back against the Houston defense until further notice. It’s a gold mine right now. But good on Justin Herbert and the Chargers for not blowing another 21-point lead. There was some serious Chargering going on once the special teams fumbled a kick return, and Houston, only down 27-21, was 16 yards away from the lead. But the defense held up, and the offense put it away with a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that hinged on a fourth-down conversion at midfield to Ekeler. It was his day (finally).

Cardinals at Panthers: This game was such a mess that Arizona’s game-winning drive saw them face a third-and-goal from the Carolina 27 before kicking a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left. Then another Baker Mayfield pass was tipped by J.J. Watt for an interception and a 5-yard touchdown drive basically put the game out of reach because we know the Panthers aren’t coming back from 20-10. Not in the Matt Rhule era, which now boasts these numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-26 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-23 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-26 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I did not think Mayfield would be worse to start the season than Sam Darnold was last year, but it has happened.

Next week: Colts-Broncos on TNF might be good just because the teams are on an even playing field of disappointment. Will Kenny Pickett really make his first start in Buffalo against the Super Bowl favorite? Tomlin has no reason to declare it early in the week, but it needs to happen. Might as well see how he stacks up to a contender, because we know the defense is getting shredded if the weather is half decent. Bengals-Ravens could be cool on SNF. Another AFC North breaking point.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 3

I questioned on Saturday how a week with no games with a point spread of 7+ would go, especially this early in the season when we are trying to figure out what these teams really are.

As it turns out, this was only the fourth NFL week (regular season) since 2001 where no game had a spread larger than 6.5 points. We’ll see what Monday night brings with Cowboys-Giants, but so far, the four games with spreads of 1-2 points were all decided by 1-4 points. #VegasKnew

One of the most incredible stats so far is that the rookie head coaches are 9-1 this season at 4QC/GWD opportunities:

The only loss was when Nathaniel Hackett lost his mind and tried to do a 64-yard field goal in Seattle.

Some Week 3 games had a fake close finish this week (PIT-CLE on TNF, NO-CAR), but in the end, there have been 11 games with a comeback opportunity. If we get a 12th on MNF, that will be the most in any week since the 2016 season started with 13 close games.

But after seeing the Bills and Chiefs lose in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter, the Chargers lose at home by four touchdowns to the Jaguars, a 14-12 Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady game, and the unholy clusterfvck that was 49ers vs. Broncos on Sunday night, “Any Given Sunday” is still very much in effect.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Dolphins: Miami’s Rope-a-Dope

Before I piss off the Miami fans, I want to remind everyone that I picked Miami to make the playoffs and Mike McDaniel to win Coach of the Year. This game helps with both of those, but I think by Week 15 when the rematch is played on a December afternoon in Buffalo, this game is going to look like the New England 14-10 extreme winds game on Monday night last year.

The Bills dominated this game and only have themselves to blame for losing it. They literally melted in the Miami heat and wore themselves out while outgaining the Dolphins 497-212 in yards, 31-15 in first downs, and holding the ball for 40:20.

Yes, Josh Allen had some notable screwups in this one. He lost the ball on a strip-sack that led to a 6-yard touchdown drive for Miami. He had to do a fake spike before halftime after bobbling another snap, potentially costing the team another three points. He didn’t come through again on three straight plays from inside the 2-yard line after the two-minute warning. His final drive, with 85 seconds to get the winning field goal set up, was not the stuff of legends and does not help his MVP case as he couldn’t get the spike off to beat the buzzer.

But while Allen had a ridiculous 75 dropbacks, I am not sure how Tua Tagovailoa returned to the game after banging his head off the ground in the second quarter and looking wobbly. Instead of expecting the Bills to feast on Teddy Bridgewater, Tua was soon back in the game and ended up leading a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter keyed by big catches that Jaylen Waddle made (45 and 32 yards) that I doubt Bridgewater would have completed, even if the Bills were badly shorthanded in the secondary in this game.

But back to Allen, he had help in blowing this game. In the third quarter, the Bills had one full possession and Gabriel Davis dropped a sure touchdown on it. Almost a Lee Evans-Sterling Moore type of play if you know what I mean (2011 AFC Championship Game). The Bills had to settle for a field goal and 17-14 lead after a 9:22 drive.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Bills settled for another field goal and missed it from 38 yards out. What the hell? Miami took the lead, then it was another march of over eight minutes where the Bills came up empty at the goal line. Even after Miami’s butt-punt inside the end zone produced a safety and 21-19 score, Allen still couldn’t deliver the final game-winning drive.

Since 1970, teams with an edge of 275+ yards are 300-13-1 (.957), so come on, Buffalo. The last team to outgain an opponent by 275+ yards and lose was the 2020 Rams in Miami, Tua’s first start when Jared Goff imploded with turnovers. Those articles I wrote during the playoffs asking if Joe Burrow was the new Brady, did I have the wrong 2020 draft quarterback in mind?

But going back to last season, the Bills are now 1-7 in close games. Allen has not had a fourth-quarter comeback since the third game of the 2020 season against the Rams, a game where the refs bailed him out with a penalty to wipe out a fourth-down incompletion.

This team may have a big front-runner problem. I would still pick Buffalo in a rematch in a heartbeat, but they are going to have to win a game late at some point this year if they are going to win a Super Bowl or even get to one.

Chiefs at Colts: That Horseshoe Voodoo

Some franchises just seem snake-bitten against certain teams. Over the last 30 years, the Chiefs are 4-14 against the Colts, including a 1-4 record in playoff games. From Lin Elliott’s missed field goals in the 1995 playoffs to the no-punts playoff loss in Arrowhead in 2003 to the blown 28-point lead in 2013 AFC Wild Card to that weird 19-13 game in 2019, it’s just one heartbreak after another for the Chiefs.

But most of those games did not happen in the Patrick Mahomes era, and he even won his first playoff game – feels like a shock now – at home against the Colts in 2018, Andrew Luck’s final game.

But Mahomes and the Chiefs are 0-2 against the Colts ever since, and Sunday’s 20-17 loss ranks right up there with the 19-13 loss that was such a one-of-a-kind in Mahomes’ career.

We have 20-17 as a nice cousin to 19-13:

  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to an opponent that scored fewer than 26 points (45-2 record).
  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to a team with under 340 yards of offense (28-2 record) as the Colts had just 259 yards on Sunday.
  • 19-13 was the first time in 24 starts that Mahomes did not lead the Chiefs to at least 26 points.
  • 19-13 is the only game in Mahomes’ first 50 starts where the Chiefs did not score at least 22 points.
  • Pending on 2022 results, 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career to a team with fewer than eight wins (2019 Colts finished 7-9).
  • 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career when a team blitzes him at least 12 times (12-1 record). [Note: waiting for 20-17 data.]
  • Mahomes is 28-2 SU as a favorite of more than 7 points and 19-13 was the first loss.

How did this one happen? Special teams played a huge part in a variety of ways, making you wonder if the team should have bit the bullet and cut someone to add another kicker while Harrison Butker is injured.

  • First, rookie Skyy Moore muffed a punt that led to an easy 4-yard touchdown drive for the Colts.
  • A punt pinned Mahomes to his 1-yard line for Drive No. 2.
  • The Chiefs missed an extra point on their first touchdown.
  • Leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs tried a terrible fake field goal instead of trying a 42-yard kick.
  • Matt Ammendola missed a 34-yard field goal wide left with 8:38 left that would have had the game tied if the Colts still got the touchdown.

That was a brutal performance, but the offense also was not that great for the second week in a row as the Chargers and Colts have held this offense to 37 points.  Apparently, not every defense is as clueless as Arizona.

The defense had five sacks of Matt Ryan and made some good plays, but there was a fourth-and-1 sneak at the Indy 33 that could have been game-deciding if the Chiefs stopped Ryan. They didn’t. Worse, a sack to bring up fourth-and-14 with 5:08 left should have changed things dramatically, but Chris Jones was penalized for apparently saying some naughty words after the play, leading to an automatic first down. Ridiculous.

The Colts took a whopping 8:14 to drive for the winning touchdown with Ryan cashing in again to rookie Jelani Woods with 24 seconds left to take a 20-17 lead.

We know Mahomes doesn’t need a ton of time to get into field goal range, but what exactly is that without Butker and with a kicker who can’t make an extra point or kick from 34 yards out? After a 24-yard completion from Mahomes, who struggled to break 250 yards passing, he had 0:08 left at the Indy 46. Something quick over the middle for 10-15 yards and getting down to use a timeout would work well with Butker, but again, the kick was going to be a nightmare in this situation. But we never got to see one as Mahomes forced a pass that was intercepted, and the game was over. The Colts did it again to the Chiefs.

This game is exactly why I said it’d be so interesting if the Chiefs had to play the Colts in the 2020 or 2021 playoffs. They did this without their best defender (Shaquille Leonard) active, but Michael Pittman’s return was a huge boost to Ryan’s confidence despite the pressure he faced.

If we ignore Weeks 1-2, this game is exactly why I felt the Colts would be better without Wentz this year, and why I had the Chiefs taking a step back to 10-7. Time will tell if this was just some more Horseshoe Voodoo when these teams meet up, but if there’s a playoff rematch, I don’t blame any Kansas City fans having dread over the outcome.

The muffed punt to start the game was just the first sign of what was to come. The Chiefs have some issues to take care of in this post-Tyreek Hill era, and a trip to Tampa Bay (allowing 9.0 points per game) is unlikely to make things better.

The good news is the rest of the AFC West looks terrible right now.

Packers at Buccaneers: Okay, Boomers

Tom Brady had the 50th failed 4QC of his career on Sunday, and yet I felt nothing from this 14-12 odyssey that could be the final time he and Aaron Rodgers match up in the NFL.

Is it because this didn’t feel like the real version of the Buccaneers with Mike Evans suspended and Chris Godwin (hamstring) out? Sure, we can talk about Julio Jones being out for Tampa and Sammy Watkins being out for Green Bay, but that’s like talking about the sun coming up and going back down. It’s just assumed at this point.

But there’s the rub. The Packers are not going to get that much better talent-wise than what they had here, and they still got the 14-12 win despite not scoring on their final nine drives. Aaron Jones had another huge fumble in a game against Tampa when the Packers could have gone up 21-3.

But Tampa should get better soon with Evans coming back and Godwin probably in a couple more weeks. The Buccaneers didn’t run well at all in this game (35 yards for Leonard Fournette) and Brady was sacked three times. But he threw for 271 yards with Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman each losing fumbles.

The Tampa Bay defense is allowing 9.0 points per game this season to lead the NFL, but the offense is averaging one offensive touchdown per game. This defense gave the offense plenty of chances to win this, as did the Green Bay offense with a bad second half.

Brady had four drives in a 14-6 game and finally cashed in the last one for a touchdown. But just when you thought Fournette was going to run in the two-point conversion to force overtime, the Buccaneers were hit with a delay of game. They barely avoided one on the touchdown too. How do teams keep screwing this up this season?

Pushed 5 yards back, Brady’s pass was deflected and incomplete in the end zone. The Packers recovered the onside kick, and it was over at 14-12.

It’s a fun win for Green Bay, but would you trust this team in a playoff rematch with the Bucs having better receivers? No way I would.

49ers at Broncos: 11-10, Rockies Edge Out the Giants

Do I need to say much about the second 11-10 game in NFL history? You probably saw this mess on Sunday night. Along the way to those 21 points, we had a 55-yard field goal, a safety after Jimmy Garoppolo pulled a Dan Orlovsky and stepped out of bounds, and a 51-yard field goal on a drive without any first downs.

That set up the 10-5 score in the fourth quarter, which set the stage for Russell Wilson to have one good drive where the old magic showed up and the Broncos actually ran in a touchdown. But even with an 11-10 deficit, Garoppolo should be able to get a game-winning field goal, right? It’s the other bums that lose every close game for Kyle Shanahan.

Well, on a night where the crowd was again booing Denver’s boo-worthy offense, the 49ers weren’t much better. Without a great drive at the end, you could even say they were worse given the talent involved.

Garoppolo threw a terrible interception with 2:06 left. I have no idea what he saw there. But then Nathaniel Hackett put some gutless touches on the win. He called three straight runs and punted the ball back with 1:42 left in a 1-point game. Do you not understand that the 49ers had four clock stoppages? Did you forget why this team traded so much to get Wilson? That wasn’t Drew Lock out there, even if some Wilson’s accuracy looked like Lock’s on Sunday night.

That was pathetic and it should have lost Denver the game. But the 49ers had coach’s back with another sack and Jeff Wilson fumbled a catch to end it 11-10. The 49ers were 1-for-10 on third down.

The Broncos are 2-1 yet feel like an 0-3 team that has yet to score more than 16 points. On Sunday night, the Broncos went three-and-out nine times, the most ever for a Wilson start.

Since 1970, NFL teams with at least 10 punts and no more than 11 points are 16-162-4.

Can we unplug the 2022 Broncos and plug them back in? I don’t know what this team is doing, but I know I don’t like watching it, and they will be on TNF in Week 5 too against the Colts.

Ravens at Patriots: Lamar’s Season?

If not for one disastrous quarter against Miami, the Ravens would be the talk of the NFL going into their showdown with Buffalo next week. Maybe they still should be, and Lamar Jackson should be the new odds-on MVP favorite after another stellar game with 325 total yards and five total touchdowns in what was a surprisingly wild, high-scoring 37-26 win in New England.

Jackson rushed for over 100 yards again while throwing for four scores. It looked like the defense was going to blow another fourth-quarter lead (31-20) too after some spirited plays from a mobile Mac Jones, but Marlon Humphrey came through with a huge pick in the end zone in a 31-26 game.

Next, Nelson Agholor fumbled on a catch inside the Baltimore 40 as the Patriots were sloppy with four giveaways. Jackson turned that into a 73-yard touchdown drive that basically put the game away.

Jones then suffered some sort of leg injury on his third pick, which looked painful as he hobbled off the field. We’ll see what his status is but early reports seem to suggest sprain more than torn knee ligaments. So, hopefully his season won’t be over after the 2021 draft class already lost Trey Lance.

Jackson putting the Ravens on his back against a Buffalo defense that is suddenly vulnerable with injuries should make for an exciting Week 4. He is playing better now than when he won MVP in 2019.

Raiders at Titans: 0-3 Bowl

Going into Sunday, we expected someone to come out of this game 0-3, but just a few weeks ago, who would have imagined the Raiders would be the only 0-3 team in the NFL?

The Titans clearly took their embarrassing loss to Buffalo on Monday night to heart. Ryan Tannehill got Robert Woods (85 yards) involved, and not only did Derrick Henry look better on the ground, but he had five catches for 58 yards, easily one of the most productive receiving games of his career.

Tennessee led 24-10 at halftime, but this was a game I had lined up as a 4QC/GWD for Derek Carr. It didn’t seem like it would get there after Darren Waller, who had a terrible game, tipped a red-zone pass for a pick with 9:22 left. But the Raiders had the ball in a 24-16 game with 2:57 left. After Carr hit a deep ball to Mack Hollins to convert a fourth-and-15 at the two-minute warning, overtime was looking likely.

Carr even added to his legacy of getting bailed out of a fourth-down incompletion with a defensive holding penalty on the Titans to extend the game. You knew the touchdown was inevitable at that point, and Hollins caught that too as apparently Davante Adams isn’t allowed to hit 40 yards in this offense.

But when it came time for the game-tying two-point conversion with 1:14 left, Carr could not hook up with Waller in the end zone. The Titans recovered the onside kick and the game was over.

We knew the Raiders were a big regression candidate with their 4-0 overtime record and poor (-65) scoring differential to get to 10-7 last season. But the inability of head coach Josh McDaniels and Carr to figure out how to use the receivers in this offense has been stunning. Hollins, the leading receiver this season, had almost as many yards on Sunday as Adams has in three games combined. He had more Sunday than Waller in three games.

If the Raiders lose to the Broncos and Chiefs next to start 0-5, then this season is already cooked going into the Week 6 bye.

Lions at Vikings: I Like Dan Campbell But…

As someone who was on Lions +6/Vikings ML, it’s amusing that that was not the winning combo until the game’s last 45 seconds. Detroit blew leads of 14-0 in the first half and 24-14 in the fourth quarter to a team with Kirk Cousins getting 14 receiving yards out of Justin Jefferson. It doesn’t sound feasible, but then you remember it’s the Lions.

Detroit was just 3-of-16 on third down but made up for some of it by going 4-of-6 on fourth down as head coach Dan Campbell was aggressive again. I loved it when he bypassed a 48-yard field goal while leading 24-21 with 3:35 left, because a 6-point lead is not that helpful in that spot. Unfortunately, the running game was stuffed on fourth-and-1.

But the defense held, and soon Campbell was faced with another decision on fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 36 with 1:14 left. He decided to kick the 54-yard field goal, which was wide right. I think he should have gone for it to try ending the game with a first down. If you don’t get it, the Vikings will be down 24-21 and will have an incentive to only kick the field goal and go to overtime. Since it’s the Vikings, the game-tying field goal going in is far from a guarantee no matter what distance it is.

It’ s not like Detroit had Justin Tucker at kicker, so getting the three points was far from a given, and a miss put the Vikings at their own 44. Even if it was good, you are giving the Vikings over a minute to beat you with a touchdown. After going for it on fourth down so often in this game, I think Campbell made a mistake by not doing it once more.

Cousins only needed three throws to win the game. K.J. Osborn made a pair of 28-yard catches, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left. It took 25 seconds for the Vikings to score from midfield.

Jared Goff was in a tough spot and his Hail Mary was intercepted short of the end zone to end the game. I would say that is the toughest loss of Campbell’s career since this team would have felt great at 2-1 with Seattle up next and having made some history with a streak of 18 quarters scoring a touchdown. It is the second-longest streak since 1925. Who would have imagined the Goff-led Lions would be on that kind of list with the 1942 Packers (19 quarters)?

But instead, it’s the Vikings who are 2-1. Winning division games is something you can trust them to do. Anything else? Meh.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 3:

Eagles at Commanders: Do you think those Philadelphia defenders like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were ready for this one? They sacked Carson Wentz a career-high nine times, including three dropbacks in a row in the game’s first five minutes. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line Wentz has yet to achieve in his NFL career. The Eagles cruised to a 24-8 win with DeVonta Smith (8/169/1) and A.J. Brown (5/85/1) quickly turning into one of the most dangerous duos in the game. Isn’t it great to make the right move at quarterback, Eagles fans?

Side note: I swear the Eagles just had the two greatest offensive games back-to-back in which a team only scored 24 points and didn’t score in the second half. They scored all 24 of their points on Monday against the Vikings in the first half and all 24 points against Washington came in the second quarter. I don’t think the lack of second-half scoring is something to get worried about yet, but it has been an interesting two games with Hurts lighting it up and improving his MVP odds.

Bengals at Jets: This was one of the few games where I was really dialed in on how everything would play out. Joe Flacco threw the ball a ton, but no busted coverage meant no big plays and the Jets only scored 12 points. Joe Burrow didn’t have a dominant pass rusher to deal with, so he had his best game of the season (only two sacks) and took advantage of poor coverage for a long touchdown to Tyler Boyd. Bengals finally get a win this season but will have tough game with Miami on Thursday night.

Texans at Bears: So much for that under 40 points. The Texans cannot stop the run (281 yards), which is a good thing since the Bears still only threw 17 passes and took five sacks. But we may have seen another 20-20 tie for this Houston team if Davis Mills didn’t have a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Roquan Smith with 1:05 left. That set up a cheap game-winning drive that consisted of a 1-yard run and two kneeldowns by Justin Fields before a 30-yard field goal at the buzzer. It’s the kind of finish Lovie Smith would be proud of… if he was still on the other side.

Falcons at Seahawks: Can you believe the Falcons and the Browns are the only teams to score at least 26 points in all three games this season? I liked the Falcons in this one because of the way they have been competing and scoring this season, and the Seahawks are still too hard to trust for me. But this was one of the closest games of the week with a fourth quarter that featured more unauthorized drones flying over the stadium than points. But in the end, Geno Smith reminded us why he’s 3-14 (.176) at 4QC opportunities with a sack and interception in Atlanta territory. The Falcons finally closed a game.

Saints at Panthers: I knew Carolina wasn’t going to go 0-17, so a home game with the Saints after Jameis Winston imploded last week felt like an appropriate spot to give Matt Rhule his first win. It was also typical Rhule in that the Panthers led wire-to-wire thanks to scooping up an early Alvin Kamara fumble for a touchdown, and they only allowed 14 points. The Jameis turnovers came later, and he technically had a failed 4QC/GWD, but it was in just about the most impossible situation you can have: down 8, no timeouts, 18 seconds left at your own 1. Just time for another desperation pick.  

Rams at Cardinals: For the second week in a row, the Rams could have smoked a team in the fourth quarter, but Cam Akers fumbled at the 1-yard line in a 20-9 game. That spoiled what could have been a game with 27 points on eight drives. But the Rams are not the Raiders, and Kyler Murray’s long marches in the fourth only led to a field goal and 20-12 loss despite him throwing 58 passes.

On the bright side, the Cardinals held Cooper Kupp to 44 receiving yards on six targets and four catches. Since 2021, Kupp has had at least 90 yards in every game except for three, but all three have been against Arizona. This is the first time Kupp has been under 60 yards since 2020. He finishes with a 25-game streak of 60-plus receiving yards, which did edge out Antonio Brown (24) for a new record. He’ll just have to start another streak next week, but maybe these Cardinals are doing something right with him. Just ignore the tape of the 20-yard touchdown run he had on Sunday that looked too easy.

Jaguars at Chargers: I picked the Jaguars to win just because Justin Herbert seemed to be trending downward to play. I loved Jacksonville at +6.5 when the line went back up to that, but truthfully, I probably would have picked the Chargers to win on Saturday had that been the line when I posted my Week 3 picks. Still, it was shocking to see the way Jacksonville rolled this team in that building.

Most of the damage was done in the second and third quarters. I do not think Herbert’s ribs were physically limiting him too much, and he sure doesn’t play defense where Trevor Lawrence and company did what they wanted. Kudos to Doug Pederson for getting great early results out of an offense with Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram at tight end. I really did not think it would work, but for three games it has, and this team realistically could win the AFC South this year. Might even be upgrading to say they should win it in a few weeks if things keep up.

As for Chargers coach Brandon Staley, has a coach’s stock ever dropped so fast? His answer to keeping Herbert in a 38-10 game in the final five minutes was absurd. This team seems destined to waste one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

Next week: Bills-Ravens is a huge one, Dolphins-Bengals might be good on Thursday night, and of course I’ve already done a preview for Chiefs-Bucs before writing this. Even Jaguars-Eagles looks like a game to watch, which might be the best way to sum up September in this NFL season.

This season has to give us something more than Bills-Chiefs III meets Brady in the Super Bowl.

NFL Stat Oddity: Divisional Round

The last five rounds of the NFL playoffs had been historically low on drama, so you might say regression hit hard with the best divisional round weekend in history. All four games were decided by a walk-off score, a grand total of 15 points separating the teams, and three road underdogs won.

We were 13 seconds away from the first perfect road sweep in the divisional round. It was however the first time ever that both No. 1 seeds (Titans and Packers) lost on the same day. We could even have watched the last games in the Hall of Fame careers of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That expected NFC Championship Game rematch between the two? Forget about it. We’re getting 49ers-Rams III.

Cincinnati’s halftime lead in Tennessee before winning 19-16 made it a 26-0 run for the team leading at halftime in the playoffs. But the 49ers-Packers ended that historic streak. A blocked punt return touchdown by the 49ers also helped lead to the first fourth-quarter lead change in the playoffs since Super Bowl LIV. We tied the all-time streak at 20 playoff games (set in 1935-50) without a fourth-quarter lead change, but that is thankfully over.

But even if last-second field goals in tied games were still not enough drama for you, the Bills and Chiefs made sure we got all the lead changes you could imagine. Try four after the two-minute warning alone, or one too many if you’re a Buffalo fan.  

We start with one of the absolute best playoff games ever played.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: The Greatest Divisional Round Game Ever

If the Chiefs go on to win the Super Bowl, we’ll be talking about this one on our deathbeds. Rarely does a heavyweight matchup like this one deliver, but this game blew away all expectations.

There were 31 points scored AFTER the two-minute warning. If that’s not the NFL record, then I don’t know what is. The 2013 Vikings-Ravens scored 36 points in the final 2:04, but only 28 came after the two-minute warning.

Even if it wasn’t a significant playoff game with an incredible ending, this was one of the best-played games ever. It is the first game in NFL history where both teams scored 30 points, had no turnovers, and combined for fewer than five penalties. You want clean, efficient play with two incredibly athletic quarterbacks? This was the game to watch.

Josh Allen led the Bills to five touchdowns on nine drives. You could say he’s slipping after going 7-for-7 a week ago, but he was great in this game. Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to five touchdowns, three field goals, one missed field goal, and two punts on their 11 drives.

You know you’re dealing with an incredible game when the biggest complaint is the overtime system not letting the other team answer on offense. No officiating controversy. No bogus play to decide it. Just one score after another.

Right from the start you could see this game was going to be special with the teams exchanging touchdowns in a fast-moving first quarter. Mahomes had the toe injury last postseason, so we did not see him run as effectively as he did in the previous postseason. He does seem to have some Colin Kaepernick in him where he “lets it all hang out” in these playoff games. In this game, Mahomes had 49 yards rushing on the first drive alone, scored a touchdown, and finished with a career-high 69 rushing yards to lead the Chiefs.

I said in my preview that the Bills had the No. 1 scoring defense and the Chiefs were No. 1 since Week 6, but both used weak schedules to boost those stats. Against top offenses, they were not reliable this year. Sure enough, the two offenses that were so efficient a week ago had their way with these defenses this night. But for anyone thinking a 42-36 shootout had no defense, that would gloss over all the incredible plays Allen and Mahomes made to avoid sacks. Each took two sacks, but the number would have been so much higher with lesser quarterbacks. Mahomes especially had better pocket movement and sack avoidance in this game than I’ve ever seen from him. Buffalo had to be sick at how often he got away, but tackling was an issue on other plays too, including a 25-yard touchdown run by Mecole Hardman that looked like it would gain a couple yards at best.

Before the 31-point bonanza at the end, this looked like a game where the Chiefs were going to be kicking themselves for a bad kicking night by Harrison Butker (missed a field goal before halftime and an extra point) and a terrible red-zone call in the fourth quarter. Up 23-21, the Chiefs had a chance to go up two scores, but decided to run an option play with Blake Bell pitching to Jerick McKinnon on third-and-1 for a 3-yard loss. WTF was that? Did they not learn from the Wildcat disaster a week ago? Don’t take the ball out of Mahomes’ hands. That’s way too cute on a pivotal play.

Down 26-21, the stage was set for Allen. I predicted he would lead the first game-winning drive with a touchdown for the Bills (0-5 at them in 2021) in this game. I didn’t think he’d almost use the final nine minutes to do it, but the Chiefs could not stop his runs as he had 68 yards on 11 carries. None were bigger than his 6-yard scramble on a fourth-and-4 with 2:48 left. It looked like the Chiefs had him dead to rights on the play, but he escaped a la Steve McNair and picked it up.

After a bad completion to Devin Singletary lost 7 yards when Allen should have thrown the ball at his feet, the Bills faced a 4th-and-13. Allen found Gabriel Davis wide open for 27 yards in the end zone. Davis was the target on Allen’s 75-yard rocket in the third quarter as well. Stefon Diggs had a shockingly quiet night (three catches for 7 yards), but he came through on the receiving end of a two-point conversion after Allen extended the play.

Down 29-26, you knew Mahomes would answer, but could you trust Butker on this night? Didn’t have to. The connection to Tyreek Hill struck playoff gold again over the middle and Hill turned on the jets for a 64-yard touchdown. But did he leave too much time? The Bills had 1:02 and all three timeouts, an eternity in this game. Davis continued to deliver and was the open target again on a 19-yard touchdown, his fourth of the game, a playoff record. The Chiefs were badly missing safety Tyrann Mathieu, who left early with a concussion.

The Butker misses and the cutesy play call were almost forgotten at this point, but I knew I’d be talking about them in recapping this loss for the Chiefs. It’d be the fourth blown fourth-quarter lead for the defense this year. But as long as you have 13 seconds, your timeouts, and Mahomes, you still have a chance in a 36-33 game.

This was going to be tough, but the Bills could not have played it any worse on three straight plays. First, why a touchback? Kick it short and make them burn a few seconds. Every second is crucial. Then the defense was way too soft as the Chiefs picked up 19 yards to Hill in five seconds before using the first timeout. Still difficult, but not impossible. Then the back-breaker: Kelce left way too open for a 25-yard gain right down the seam. Timeout at three seconds and Butker came on to deliver from 49 yards out. Overtime. That’s 44 yards in 10 seconds. That can’t happen.

There have been some miraculous touchdown drives in less time thanks to a Hail Mary or lateral-filled play. But I have the Chiefs as the only offense since 1981 to drive 40-plus yards for a field goal in the last 15 seconds to tie or win a game.

You hate to see it come down to a coin flip, but if ever there was a game where that was inevitable, it was this one. The Chiefs, like they did in Los Angeles against the Chargers in my regular season Game of the Year 2021, won the coin toss and took the ball right down the field for a touchdown. Mahomes threw a perfect ball to Kelce for an 8-yard touchdown to end it.

Since 2011, the team receiving first in overtime in the playoffs is 10-1 and seven games ended on a first-drive touchdown. Only the 2018 Saints lost to the Rams in a game any rational person would tell you had no business going to overtime. But this tells me the system is not working, and for years I have said we need a system that doesn’t have to be as corny as college, but it has to be better for the postseason than this. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see Allen answer after his second go-ahead touchdown pass to Davis after the two-minute warning. The Chiefs ended up with 11 drives to nine for the Bills in this game.

I guess the Bills just needed to be closer to perfect like they were a week ago, but at the same time, don’t blow it with 13 seconds or you leave yourself open to exactly this type of ending. But what a game these teams put on. Allen has earned a lot of respect from me with his playoff run, and really going back to that near-comeback attempt in Tampa Bay and his great game in New England. He is a legitimate stud, but Mahomes is still just better.

The best.

Is it the greatest divisional round game ever? Yes, and I don’t answer that as a prisoner of the moment. I hyped this game up as having massive potential for only being a second-round matchup. If I was going full wrestling writer here and creating a system to judge the best games, I would look at things like relevancy/importance, past history/rivalry, roster talent, quarterback performance, game script/drama/lead changes, highlight plays/visual imprints it left, and how it ended.

This one is going to score higher than anything using such criteria. It was a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, so there was history and relevance. Both teams have major Super Bowl aspirations again, and after the three upsets preceding it, this arguably was this year’s Super Bowl. Then after the way the quarterbacks performed, the Gabriel Davis record-setting performance, the 31 points scored after the two-minute warning, the 13-second game-tying drive, a game with no turnovers and four penalties, a walk-off touchdown to a Hall of Fame tight end in overtime – the whole thing was just incredible football.

In the divisional round, you have a lot of games famous for one play or drive in particular:

  • The Immaculate Reception
  • The Sea of Hands
  • Ghost to the Post
  • Red-Right 88
  • Danny White to Drew Pearson in Atlanta (1980)
  • John Elway’s bomb against the 1991 Oilers.
  • The Tuck Rule (two plays, counting Adam Vinatieri’s field goal).
  • Fourth-and-26.
  • Brady having his fourth-down interception fumbled back to him in San Diego (2006).
  • San Diego backup QB Billy Volek’s game-winning drive in Indy (2007).
  • Antonio Brown’s coming out party on third-and-19 against the 2010 Ravens.
  • Alex Smith to Vernon Davis against the 2011 Saints.
  • Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones via Rahim Moore in Denver (2012).
  • Dez Caught It (2014)
  • Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis twice, but Larry Fitzgerald in OT (2015)
  • Rodgers to Jared Cook in Dallas (2016)
  • The Minneapolis Miracle to Stefon Diggs (2017)

A lot of great moments, and some were even great games before that moment. But I would still put this game ahead of them all, as well as any other overtime game like 1971 Chiefs-Dolphins (longest game but forgettable), 2003 Panthers-Rams (Steve Smith in double overtime), or a 2002 Steelers-Titans shootout involving Tommy Maddox (and kicker/actor Joe Nedney).

When you get to the cream of the crop in the divisional round, I think you’re talking about 2005 Steelers at Colts. It was the first time a No. 6 seed beat the No. 1 seed, and it was one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in playoff history with the Colts trying to rally from a 21-3 deficit. Jerome Bettis’ fumble, Nick Harper’s recovery, and Ben Roethlisberger’s tackle set up a crushing missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt, creating a montage of “he missed it” quips from Bettis, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Peyton Manning. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Harper being stabbed by his wife the night before the game just adds to the lore. But it loses points for not having any lead changes and coming down to that liquored-up kicker you knew would choke.

The other game that will usually come up in the best divisional round game talk is The Epic in Miami: 1981 Chargers at Dolphins. The favored Chargers led 24-0 before the Dolphins, led by backup QB Don Strock off the bench, rallied the team to a 24-24 tie. The teams exchanged touchdowns before the Dolphins even took a 38-31 lead, which was answered by Dan Fouts and his high-powered offense to tie the game at 38. Strock had his interception fumbled back to him, but Miami’s 43-yard field goal was tipped by tight end Kellen Winslow to end regulation. The Chargers could have ended things immediately, but missed a 27-yard field goal to start overtime. Oof. Several more drives took place, including Miami’s 34-yard field goal being blocked. The Chargers finally won 41-38 on a 29-yard field goal.

Great game (I’ve seen a full replay), certainly an epic, but I’m not putting any game that involves Don f’n Strock throwing for 403 yards off the bench and a bunch of failed field goals as the No. 1 game over what we just saw on Sunday.

So, there you have it. This was the best of the best. I can only hope we see these teams meet in the playoffs more. This was already the fourth Mahomes-Allen game in the last two seasons. John Elway and Dan Marino met three times in 16 seasons despite being drafted into the same conference in the same year. This could be the NFL’s next great rivalry with a signature game to boot already.

Of course, now it’s the Bengals’ turn to take on the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs do not have to make up that 27-3 loss in Tennessee. They get to stay home and make up that 34-31 loss in Cincinnati. Let’s just say I won’t be voting against Mahomes again any time soon.

Not even 13 seconds is good enough to put him away. But props to Buffalo for closing the gap from last season. Just have to make one more stride to get over the hump next year.

Rams at Buccaneers: Did Tom Brady’s Luck Finally Run Out?

If I was writing the script for Tom Brady’s final NFL game, it might look quite similar to what happened on Sunday. You know I would have him lose as a home favorite in an early round of the playoffs. You know I would have him commit multiple turnovers. But I would write in all sorts of absurd Brady Bullshit (Trademark 2003) to leave no doubt that he was the luckiest player to ever lace them up in this sport. The LOAT. The first unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of his career was a nice twist I didn’t see coming, but he kind of made himself a target for that this week.

But even after getting a mind-numbing number of breaks to go his way, he would still lose in the end. And that’s exactly what happened against the Rams, though my script would have been better for my blood pressure.

But there will not be a repeat champion, extending the longest drought without one in NFL history. As for Brady retiring? I’ll believe it when I see a Week 1 without him. I don’t think we’re lucky enough to be done with him, but the days have to be numbered.

I also have to do a bit of an apology to Matthew Stafford. I’ve been hard on him about the 8-68 record against winning teams, though I wanted that to go viral to motivate him this season. You also should know by now that my game predictions for Brady are reverse jinxes, which is why you see me pick his team to win every time. You have to read between the lines. When I say things like “The Rams have a lot of the right elements to deal with Tampa Bay,” but then you see me bring up Brady’s luck, that’s a pretty good sign I actually believe the Rams should win this game. They’re the better team.

While I was absolutely right that turnovers would be the story of this game, none of them were Stafford’s fault as I feared. Stafford was money on the road, saw the field very well, and made the biggest throws of the game to Cooper Kupp. He passed for 366 yards despite Cam Akers (24 carries for 48 yards) only averaging 2.0 yards per carry and wasting a lot of first downs.

Stafford was 0-53 in his career when his team allowed more than 24 points against a team with a winning record. Make that 1-53 after the biggest win of his career.

But my lord did the Rams make this tougher than it needed to be. You could see early on that the Rams, who had already won two in a row over Brady’s Bucs, were a tough matchup for this team. Neither team had their best tackle (Andrew Whitworth for Rams, Tristan Wirfs for Bucs), but the Rams’ superior pass-rushing talent took over while Stafford was better at delivering throws from different angles.

Brady was off early, missing his first four throws as the Rams built a 10-0 lead. Stafford found Kupp inexplicably open for a 70-yard touchdown on third-and-20 to take a 17-3 lead. The Buccaneers missed a 48-yard field goal on the drive where Brady was penalized for cursing at a ref, though it should be pointed out they eventually had a first down four yards beyond where that penalty was marked off. The drive just stalled out as was often the case for the Bucs, who finished 3-of-14 on third down, even worse than their bad week against the Eagles on third down. The Buccaneers were all-around sloppy in this game, kicking off out of bounds multiple times, and drawing multiple 15-yard flags.

LOAT MOMENT #1: But with the Rams up 20-3 at the two-minute warning, that’s when the LOAT kicked into gear, or perhaps when Brady sacrificed a newborn’s soul for one last pact with the devil. Brady just threw up a pass for Gronk that was intercepted and returned to the Tampa Bay 31 with 1:53 left. Now if someone like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers throws that pick in a big game, they’re falling behind 27-3 at the half. Maybe 24-3 at best. But what makes Brady the LOAT is he wills his defense to force Cam Akers to fumble at the 1-yard line after the ball just started coming out prior to Akers’ head being down on the ground.

What a break. As you might expect, the last team to lead a playoff game by 14+ points and lose a fumble before losing the game was Atlanta in Super Bowl 51. That was the big Hightower strip-sack of Matt Ryan with the Falcons up 28-12 on third-and-1. When Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth remind you that if anyone can lead this comeback, it’s Brady, they’re burying the lede that he isn’t even on the god damn field when these crucial plays are happening. But if Jimmy Garoppolo can lead a 17-point second-half comeback against these Rams in Week 18, Brady could too.

The Rams seemed to overcome this one. They used a sequence of a great punt, three-and-out on defense, and a big punt return to set up a 28-yard touchdown drive. Stafford’s QB sneak looked better this week and the Rams were in the end zone again. Brady had to settle for a field goal, and it was 27-6 late in the third quarter. Again, this is Super Bowl LI territory. Just make one more good drive and you win the game, which is exactly what Atlanta failed to do despite so many chances. After Tampa’s second kickoff out of bounds, things were looking good at the 40. However…

LOAT MOMENT #2: The reliable Kupp fumbled a short completion and Brady was at the 30. Here we go again.

According to Stathead, the Rams are the only team in the playoffs since at least 1994 to lose two fumbles from scrimmage in a game while leading by at least 14 points.

Four plays later on a fourth-and-9, there’s Brady suddenly with a wall of pass protection and a big cushion on Scotty Miller, who caught the ball for 16 yards. Again, learn from Atlanta. One good play ends the game. Three plays later, Leonard Fournette was in the end zone and it was 27-13 going into the fourth quarter.

The Rams used a whopping 31 seconds to go three-and-out. But just when you thought you knew where this one was headed, Von Miller said enough of this bullshit. He got to Brady for a strip sack and the Rams had the ball back at the Tampa 25. At worst, they’d kick a field goal and take a three-score lead again. Well, about that…

LOAT MOMENT #3: Stafford was not expecting the snap from center and the ball went over his head for a third fumble. The strip-sack actually helped Brady gain 25 yards in field position.

When I just told you the Rams are the only playoff team to fumble two times when leading by at least 14 points, you know damn well that means they’re the only team to do it three times since at least 1994. As far as regular-season games, you have to go back to 2002 Bills vs. Bengals to find the last team to cough it up three times with a 14+ point lead. But at least two of those Buffalo turnovers were in the final four minutes of the game with a 27-9 lead.

Surprisingly, Brady did not turn this one into points despite starting at the Los Angeles 45. He took a big sack from Leonard Floyd to bring up a fourth-and-14. Brady threw incomplete for Mike Evans, but Eric Weddle was there for a late hit that was unnecessary. That’s a 15-yard penalty, but the interesting part is that it’s a dead ball foul assessed after the change of possession as the hit came a split second after the ball hit the ground. Maybe something to look at for a rule change, but a rare case of things going against Brady. Though, let’s be real. A bad throw bailed out by a late hit would have just been LOAT MOMENT #4. Speaking of which…

LOAT MOMENT #4: Just when you think the Rams are going to put it out of reach at 17 points, kicker Matt Gay comes up short on a 47-yard field goal with 6:31.

Now a 47-yard field goal is not a lock, but who in the NFL comes up SHORT on a kick from that distance in a game played in Florida? Absurd effort from the kicker there to keep the Bucs alive. But again, Brady couldn’t respond. He didn’t see a wide-open Miller on a fourth-and-9 and threw incomplete with 4:26 left. The Bucs had to use their three timeouts to get a three-and-out and get the ball back with 3:56 left.

All the Los Angeles defense has to do is not give up a touchdown before the two-minute warning. Ideally, you stop them cold. But if you give up a touchdown after the 2MW, then it’s just a matter of recovering the onside kick to end it. Of course, Tampa probably recovers that with the way this one was going, but whatever. Just play defense.

LOAT MOOh wait, let’s give him one here. Knowing this clock situation, Brady took his shot deep and finally hit a good pass in the game, finding Evans in coverage with Jalen Ramsey for a 55-yard touchdown with 3:20 left. The Bucs trailed 27-20.

One first down can win the game with the Bucs out of timeouts. McVay shrunk in this situation against the 49ers in Week 18. He couldn’t do it again, could he? Passing on second-and-7 to end it certainly was an option, but they stuck with Akers. He looked to have a hole, but oh shit.

LOAT MOMENT #5: Akers fumbles at the LA 30 with 2:25 left. Brady is 30 yards away from the tie, his ninth playoff touchdown drive starting in opponent territory since 2020. This is only the third time during Brady’s NFL career that a player fumbled in the final 3:00 of a playoff game with a one-score lead. The other two involved the Steelers: they forced Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill to fumble in 2015 and Jerome Bettis lost his infamous one in Indy in 2005 before Ben Roethlisberger tackled Nick Harper.

Now the only question was if “no risk it, no biscuit” Bruce Arians would go for two if the Bucs get a touchdown. The Brady sneak on fourth-and-1 may have made that more likely, but with everyone expecting it, the Bucs went with a run to Fournette, who broke a tackle in the backfield and ran for a 9-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left. I think the extra point to tie the game at 27 was the right call with that much time left.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t tweet about a pick-six coming next, but it sure felt like the Rams were going to blow this one. They’ve already coughed up four fumbles and you couldn’t trust the kicker. The ensuing drive got off to a rough start too with Stafford taking a sack. But that final timeout by McVay at 35 seconds bought the team time to compose itself before making some plays. Stafford found Kupp for 20 yards, then against the blitz-happiest defense in the league, Stafford went back to the most targeted receiver against the blitz in the NFL this season. Kupp ran right down the middle of the field and the ball was perfect for a 44-yard gain. The spike operation was smoothly done, and Gay was able to make the kick from 30 yards out to win the game.

I would have preferred a more humorous ending for Brady to lose, but this works for me. A signature game-winning drive for Stafford and a memorable throw to Kupp, the best wideout this year.

It seems crazy that the Rams still have to beat another nemesis next week to get to the Super Bowl, because this was some real slay the dragon shit in Tampa. They overcame four fumbles in the LOAT’s house, blew a 24-point lead, and still found a way to win. The Rams are the first team since the merger to have zero interceptions and lose four fumbles in a playoff game.

It took 13 years, but Stafford has a signature win. This Tampa team’s success last year was a model for what the Rams are doing this season. Now they are just two more wins away from getting it done, but neither game expects to be easy.

As for Tampa Bay, I’ll just let Antonio Brown have the final words:

49ers at Packers: Aaron Rodgers To Go Through with Super Bowl Boycott After All

Wait, was that it? Did we really just see the end of Aaron Rodgers’ run in Green Bay with a 13-10 home loss to the 49ers in the divisional round? He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to lose four playoff games to the same opponent, but none have been more shocking or disappointing than this one.

In fact, I think it’s the worst loss of Rodgers’ career.

The Packers were swept out of the playoffs by the 2012 49ers, 2013 49ers, 2014 Seahawks, 2015 Cardinals, 2016 Falcons, 2019 49ers, and 2020 Buccaneers. That means they were 0-2 against all those teams, opponents that were usually just better and they never found an answer for. This is the first time Green Bay didn’t get swept out of the playoffs since they lost 37-20 to the 2011 Giants in the divisional round. That was another team, like the 2021 49ers in Week 3, where they escaped with a road win on a last-second field goal. But come playoff time, they shit the bed. At least in 2011, the Packers could blame a slow start on resting Rodgers after the 15th game and having the bye. Those Giants also completed a second historic Super Bowl run that year, and I do not believe these 49ers are those Giants reincarnated. These 49ers needed a 17-point comeback in LA to make the tournament before holding on for dear life in Dallas last week.

Sure, the 2011, 2014, and 2020 Packers all looked more prepared to win a championship than this year’s version, a team that had key players injured on both sides, relied too much on Davante Adams, ranked 21st in points per drive allowed, and had a hard time putting teams away comfortably. Those three MVP seasons by Rodgers were better versions of him than what we saw this year, which will still likely net him a fourth MVP as it’s a regular-season award and the votes have been cast.

But what I’m most stunned by is the 13-10 final. Prior to Saturday night, Rodgers was 41-0 in starts he finished where the Packers allowed fewer than 14 points. The only loss by actual record in that situation was a 7-3 game he left early (concussion) against the 2010 Lions. But he was undefeated in games he finished. Keyword: was. You could also say Rodgers was 55-1 in games where the Packers allowed under 16 points with the only loss being the Fail Mary in Seattle (2012).

Make that 55-2.

Incredibly, the slow-starting Packers opened this game with a nice 69-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. The defense, which was excellent, forced a three-and-out, collecting the first of four third-down sacks on the night. You couldn’t ask for a better start. But Marcedes Lewis fumbled in San Francisco territory on the second drive, and the Packers gained more than one first down on one of their last eight drives.

You don’t deserve to win when you only score 10 points. I inadvertently jinxed Rodgers big time when I pointed out he had by far the longest streak in playoff history (20 games) of leading his team to 20 points. But he only got halfway there this time, and it’s only the second playoff game where he did not throw a touchdown pass.

But this offensive dud has another major storyline. It was one I could see coming weeks ago.

The Packers had the worst special teams (in a variety of ways) this season, and while it was not a strength for the 49ers this season, sure enough it was a huge part of this upset loss. As predicted, here is that bullet-point list of special teams woes. I’m not even going to bother listing a few short punts and kickoffs that gave the 49ers good field position. We’ll just stick with the big ones.

  • Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal was blocked to end the first half, wasting a 75-yard catch by Aaron Jones and keeping the score at 7-0.
  • Deebo Samuel, who had another great game, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 45 yards to give the 49ers the ball at the 50. The drive ended with a field goal.
  • One for playoff lore: up 10-3 with 4:50 left, Green Bay’s punt was blocked deep in their own end, the ball took forever and a day to land on the ground, and the 49ers were there for the 6-yard touchdown return to tie the game.
  • San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould nailed a 45-yard field goal at the buzzer to win the game, 13-10.

That was a brutal special teams performance, but there is some solace in watching your weakness end your season. It hurts more when your strength lets you down, and that happened here too with the offense. Last season against the Buccaneers, it was the historically-great red zone offense that let down a couple times, including that famed sequence late that led to a field goal when the Packers were down eight points.

But this year? Things were all around sour after the opening drive. Lewis’ fumble was just a bad play by him, but it also speaks to the lack of a tight end after losing Robert Tonyan. The new running attack was stalled out when A.J. Dillon, who scored the touchdown, left with injury. Dillon and Jones combined for just 66 yards on 19 carries. Jones had 129 receiving yards to lead the team, but 75 of those yards were on that blown coverage before halftime. Rodgers only passed for 55 yards in the second half. A whopping 18 of his 20 completions went to Adams and Jones as only four Packers caught a ball.

Rodgers took five sacks against a defense that could barely touch him in Week 3. Nick Bosa was indeed a beast this time around. He probably dedicated the performance to Kyle Rittenhouse. The offensive line has not been as strong this year, and left tackle David Bakhtiari was not able to go again, but Rodgers took some really costly sacks in this one, a usual hallmark of a disappointing Green Bay loss.

The defense was not a scapegoat this time though. Garoppolo flirted with multiple picks, forced an awful one in the end zone on first down despite George Kittle being wide open, and his internal clock seemed to be frozen on this snowy, freezing night. But the 49ers also seemed to adjust better to the conditions than the Packers, which was weird. It was the 49ers hurting themselves more with drops, including a wide-open one by Kittle that would have been a big play. The 49ers hung in there, got the huge break on the blocked punt, and just waited for their chance as the Packers could not move the ball.

When Garoppolo just has to complete two quick passes for 26 yards to get a game-winning drive going, that’s going to be ideal for the 49ers. When you can just hand the ball to Samuel three times to get a first down that puts you in field-goal range, including a 9-yard run on third-and-7 where almost any other quarterback would have to make a huge throw, that’s stealing for the 49ers.

And they stole this victory away from Green Bay to end its season in one of the most painful ways possible. Rodgers was numb after the loss and that’s easy to understand. He has opened himself up to more criticism than ever before this season with the way he’s handled himself on podcasts and media interviews. I’m not going to pile on here. I’m just glad we don’t have to entertain the idea of him letting Brady get to a second Super Bowl in the NFC before he does. After this loss, I don’t think he will ever get back to the big game.

Matt LaFleur’s 2019-21 Packers are the first team in NFL history to win at least 13 games in three straight regular seasons. But they are also going to go down as the only team to win 39 games in a three-year span and not reach the Super Bowl.

Is this the end of an era of Hall of Fame quarterback play in Green Bay from 1992 through 2021? I don’t know what it’s like to watch an NFL where the Packers don’t have Favre or Rodgers. I got a little taste of it in 2013 and 2017 when he had his collarbone injuries, and yeah, the Packers weren’t relevant those weeks.

We’ll see what the future holds, but it’s crazy to think the 49ers are one win away from sending Jimmy Garoppolo to more Super Bowls than the Packers reached with Rodgers.

Bengals at Titans: Ryan Tannehill’s Interception Sudoku

I usually do not boil a playoff game down to one quarterback choking, but Ryan Tannehill choked this one away for the Titans, who fell to 0-3 in Tennessee in home playoff games as the No. 1 seed. They never scored more than 16 points in any of those games either. This comes on the heels of a 20-13 wild card loss to the Ravens last year in which Tannehill also had a late interception.

This time, Tannehill threw an interception on his first pass of the game, his first pass of the second half, and his last pass of the game. It’s like filling in an interception sudoku. He would have tried to add one in overtime if the game ever got there, and the fact that it didn’t is the most egregious part of this all.

Well, there’s also this fact: teams who score under 20 points and take nine sacks are 2-126-2 (.023) since 1960. The 1990 Seahawks had the first win against the Chiefs after Dave Krieg escaped Derrick Thomas’ final sack attempt. Now the Bengals have the first playoff win after Joe Burrow, who led the league in sacks taken this year (51), took nine sacks and still got the low-scoring road win. Tennessee’s pass rush was impressive at overwhelming the Bengals throughout the game, but it went to waste from an offensive performance that would make Jeff Fisher nod with approval.

The Titans waited basically all season to get their offense healthy for this playoff run. A.J. Brown was awesome with 142 yards and a one-handed touchdown catch. Julio Jones looked good with six grabs for 62 yards. Derrick Henry had screws in his foot, didn’t look quite ready for his 20-carry workload, but he scored a touchdown and had a few vintage runs. The Titans probably should have given D’Onta Foreman more touches as he had four carries for 66 yards, including a 45-yard run for the offense’s biggest play of the game.

But even after getting all his guys back, Tannehill did not go to them on the crucial play of the game. On a third-and-5 at his own 40 with 28 seconds left, Tannehill decided to force a pass at midfield to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The result was a tipped interception, which set up the Bengals for their game-winning field goal with no time left after Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase for 19 yards. Evan McPherson has been an outstanding rookie kicker and he drilled a 52-yard field goal to win this game.

The last thing Tannehill could do was turn the ball over in bad field position. If he wanted to throw a bomb to Brown or Jones that was picked 40 yards downfield, that probably would get the game to overtime too. But with overtime in his back pocket, Tannehill got greedy and didn’t even pick a good option.

That was a killer, but so was the tipped pick after Foreman’s 45-yard run got the ball into the red zone. Mike Hilton made an incredible play on the ball, so it wasn’t all Tannehill’s fault, but he was not sharp in the game. The offensive line also did not get any push on a couple of key Henry runs, including a fourth-and-1 in a tied game with 7:16 left. Mike Vrabel is willing to chop his dick off for a Super Bowl ring, but he can’t get behind a quarterback sneak? Is he afraid he’ll have to actually go through with the castration if the Titans get a Super Bowl on his watch?

Watching Tannehill in the last three postseasons, where he averages 150.8 passing yards per game, I’m not sure Vrabel has to worry about any Super Bowl in the near future.

One thing blowing back on Vrabel from this game was his decision to go for a two-point conversion with the game tied at 6-6. It was early in the game (second quarter), the extra point puts Tennessee up 7-6, but I liked it just because there was a penalty that put the ball at the 1. I liked the call to give the ball to Henry, but he came up inches short and the game remained tied.

Would we have a 9-7 game at halftime if the Titans go for one? Probably. Would the Bengals go for two on their touchdown to start the third quarter to make it 17-7 instead of 16-7? Probably not. Do the Titans take a 17-16 lead late third quarter if they had gone for one? Good chance. But would Burrow still take a brutal sack that knocks the Bengals out of field goal range in the fourth quarter if he was down 17-16 instead of tied 16-16? Maybe, maybe not. The whole fourth quarter could play out much differently from there, so I’m not going to put the loss all on that one decision. There were more missed opportunities than that in the game. The Titans had three plays of 40-plus yards and turned those drives into just nine points.

It was the second year in a row that the Titans had an offensive letdown at home for a one-and-done postseason. Turn the ball over enough and you can lose to anyone in this league. If it’s true against the Texans in Week 11, it’s for sure true in the playoffs against Cincinnati.

After watching the Bills-Chiefs game on Sunday night, it’s still hard to believe the Titans beat both of those teams the way they did this year. It’s also hard to believe they could have done it again next week, or next year for that matter.

If Tannehill could learn anything from Burrow in this game, it may be that eating the ball is sometimes the smartest option. Don’t throw the game away.

Next week: Can we actually get a third Bengals-49ers Super Bowl? It’s the worst option available and would require two road upsets, but we’ll see. Personally, I want a rematch of 54-51 between the Rams and Chiefs. It’s the best matchup and provides the best storylines. Even 49ers-Chiefs isn’t so bad since it would be a rematch of Super Bowl LIV.

NFL 2021 NFC Divisional Round Preview

The divisional round on the NFC side brings us two rematches from Week 3, which feels like eons ago. The Rams will attempt to win a third-straight game against Tom Brady’s Buccaneers. Only three teams have handed Brady three straight losses: 2005-06 Broncos (four if you count 2009), 2005-06 Colts, and 2007-11 Giants.

But first, the Packers try to win a playoff game against the 49ers, something that was not a problem in the 90s, proving that is still the best decade ever.

A lot of people are going to predict a rematch of the Bays next week, but wouldn’t that be something if it was 49ers-Rams III? Good luck though. Since 1990, only twice has a conference saw both home teams lose in the divisional round: 2006 AFC (Chargers and Ravens lost to Patriots and Colts) and 2008 NFC (Panthers and Giants lost to Cardinals and Eagles). 2008 was also a weekend where the top-seeded Titans lost to the Ravens, leaving the home teams at 1-3.

Will history repeat itself in a year begging for some upsets and with a top-seeded Titans team people like to disrespect?

You can see my two AFC previews here.

49ers at Packers (-5.5)

Every time these teams play that clip resurfaces of a young Aaron Rodgers at the 2005 draft. When asked how disappointed he was that the 49ers didn’t draft him, he says “not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.”

Rodgers is right that the 49ers likely would have been happier had they drafted him instead of Alex Smith. While there is no guarantee he would go on to be a multi-MVP winner and one of the greatest ever had he started out on Mike Nolan’s team in 2005, I think it’s a given he’d have done a better job than Smith, who was given numerous opportunities to be a franchise quarterback there.

And yet, the fact remains all these years later that Rodgers is 0-3 in the playoffs against San Francisco, and the 49ers have done more to keep him out of Super Bowls than vice versa. The 49ers have even been to one more Super Bowl than Rodgers has so far. They just didn’t get a win because of where a pass Colin Kaepernick threw in the end zone on fourth down landed and because of Patrick Mahomes on third-and-15.

So, this one is pretty personal as buddies Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur meet in their second playoff game after the 49ers routed the Packers in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. But out of the four matchups, this is Rodgers’ best chance to beat the 49ers in the playoffs. If he loses this one at home where the Packers are 8-0 this year, it could even be his last game with the team.

49ers: Why Things Can Be Different This Time

When these teams met in San Francisco on SNF in Week 3, the 49ers did a good job of rallying back from a 17-0 deficit. The defense made just enough stops to prevent the Packers from putting the game away late. Jimmy Garoppolo led a solid 75-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with 37 seconds left. But even that was too much time as Rodgers found Davante Adams twice for 42 yards to set up a game-winning field goal and the Packers won 30-28.

If you want to believe in the 49ers this weekend, you have to like that the team is different than it was in Week 3, especially on offense. Trey Sermon was the leading back that night and he only had 10 carries for 31 yards. Apparently, Shanahan can’t just sub in any back and embarrass the Packers like he did with Raheem Mostert (220 yards, four touchdowns) in the 2019 NFC title game.

Rookie back Elijah Mitchell was out that night. He’s back, and in his last eight games of the season, he averaged 96.8 rushing yards. What did he have in Dallas on Sunday in the playoffs? He had 96 rushing yads and a touchdown. He has been fairly consistent. The 49ers also started using Deebo Samuel more as a runner in Week 10, which kickstarted this 8-2 run after a 3-5 start. While I still think Samuel is too valuable of a receiver to not get him more targets in the passing game, this has been successful for the 49ers. Deebo has rushed for a touchdown in seven of the last nine games and he is ridiculously hard to tackle. The Packers held him to 52 yards on seven touches in Week 3, an impressive effort. But he’s going to be more productive this time.

The question is can the 49ers get tight end George Kittle going again to go along with Mitchell, Samuel, and the sometimes useful Brandon Aiyuk? Kittle had a 39-yard catch that was mostly YAC, his specialty, in Week 3 to help the 49ers get that go-ahead touchdown drive started. It was San Francisco’s only 20-yard play that night.

But Kittle only has 78 yards in his last four games combined. He caught one ball for 18 yards in Dallas and was fortunate to drop a low ball late in the game or else it would have been a brutal fumble. He needs to do more in this matchup.

The 49ers look to be getting good news on the injury front as Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner are trending towards playing Saturday. There was some concern that rookie Trey Lance would have to start this game, which would likely be disastrous for the 49ers. Remember when Jordan Love had to start against the Chiefs? It’d probably look like a slightly better version of that. The 49ers are going to have to bring the offense this week as Rodgers has led the Packers to at least 20 points in all 20 of his playoff starts, an NFL record.

But I definitely give the 49ers a fighting a chance as that offense has shown the ability to put together very long scoring drives that can shorten the game and shrink Rodgers’ margin of error. The 49ers had a 13:05 drive for a field goal against Jacksonville and a touchdown drive against the Rams that took 11:03 off the clock.

The 49ers are 8-2 in the last 10 games. The Seahawks own them, but the only other loss was on a last-second field goal in Tennessee, the other No. 1 seed this year. Say what you want about Garoppolo and his mistakes, but he led road wins in Cincinnati, Los Angeles (after trailing 17-0), and Dallas last week. That’s two weeks in a row with huge road wins as underdogs, so three in a row would be really hard to do against a rested No. 1 seed.

But the 49ers bring in a good mixture of talent, coaching, balance, and experience to pull off such an upset. It wouldn’t even be a top-four shocking upset in Lambeau this century.

Packers: Same Old Story Or…?

Another year, another likely MVP for Aaron Rodgers, another No. 1 seed, but will it be another playoff exit short of the Super Bowl? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

As much as I personally need the Packers to do well this postseason, I have a hard time buying that this team is better suited for a deep run this season. It especially doesn’t help that I think all three remaining teams (49ers, Rams, Buccaneers) are capable of winning in Green Bay.

The offense regressed from 2020. Rodgers will still win MVP by default, but he was better a year ago. Davante Adams remains incredible, but Marques Valdes-Scantling has been hurt and is doubtful this Saturday. They don’t have a tight end with 250 yards after losing Robert Tonyan. Left tackle David Bakhtiari only returned in Week 18 and played his first 27 snaps in over a year as the offensive line was not as dominant. I do like running back A.J. Dillon, who provides more of a physical style than Aaron Jones, but I don’t see the Packers riding their RB2 to the Super Bowl here.

The defense has actually declined from 14th in yards per drive and 17th in points per drive to 21st in both categories this year. In Weeks 11-14, the Packers allowed 28-34 points in each game, including games against the lowly Bears and the Ravens with a backup QB (Tyler Huntley). Sure, injuries have not been kind to that unit. The Packers lost Za’Darius Smith in Week 1. Corner Jaire Alexander has not played since Week 4. He hopes to return, which could be big, especially if the Packers make it to next week. He intercepted Garoppolo in Week 3.

Spoiler alert: defenses that finish 21st in points per drive tend to do poorly in the playoffs. You basically have to be the 2006 Colts or 2011 Giants to still win a championship. The Packers are also disastrous on special teams, but fortunately, that’s not a strength for the 49ers either. But it is something that could come back to bite Green Bay before this season is over.

But if I’m being optimistic about the Packers this week, then I like what I saw in Week 3. While the 49ers are using their offensive players differently now, they didn’t have any 20-yard plays until Kittle in the final minute. They didn’t run all over Green Bay. Nick Bosa and company got almost no pressure on Rodgers, who had his lowest pressure rate of the season in a game he attacked downfield. Adams got whatever he wanted against that secondary, the weakness of the defense. What are they going to do, guard him with Josh Norman? Allen Lazard has also come along well late in the season as another option for Rodgers, who plays better at home. The 49ers have committed a league-high 20 defensive pass interference penalties, six more than any other defense. Few quarterbacks draw more of those than Rodgers.

When the 49ers swept the Packers in 2019, we saw that domination right away in the first matchup. We didn’t see anything like it this year with the Packers going up 17-0 before a long kick return before halftime got the 49ers back in the game. The Packers have had an issue with putting games away comfortably this year.

The Prediction

The Packers have lost two games this year that Rodgers finished. One was that weird Week 1 game in Jacksonville against the Saints. Bad things just happen when Rodgers goes down to Florida. The other was a 34-31 shootout with the Vikings, a division foe that knows them well. This team has answered every other challenge, including a 4-0 record against the NFC West that has plagued them for a decade.

I do not know if you’ll see me pick the Packers to win another game this season after this week. I do not know if this will end up being the end of the road for Rodgers in Green Bay. But I do know I’m confident enough to pick the Packers to pull out a win on Saturday. I’m just skeptical enough to pick the 49ers to cover.

Final: Packers 27, 49ers 23

Rams at Buccaneers (-3)

The 2021 Rams are trying to be the 2020 Buccaneers but standing in their way is a Tampa team trying to repeat as champions. This is a very intriguing matchup with both teams looking a bit different from their Week 3 showdown, won 34-24 by the Rams. That was a wire-to-wire win, but now that we’re in a pivotal playoff round, you have to worry about some LOAT stuff going down Sunday. Anything is possible if Tom Brady puts his willpower to it.

Rams: To Be the Man…

Fair or not, the Matthew Stafford narrative is about to write its biggest chapter yet. For a team that is going all in on a Super Bowl this season, this would be a major disappointment to lose Sunday even if it is on the road against the defending champions. But the Rams are only a three-point dog and already handed Tampa Bay a 10-point loss this year.

This is the kind of win that could really change the perception for Stafford, who infamously entered this season with an 8-68 (.105) record against teams that finished the season with a winning record. How have things gone so far?

  • Stafford has led the Rams to a 4-5 record against winning teams, including the first winning streak of his career with wins over the Colts and Buccaneers in Weeks 2-3.
  • It is the first season in Stafford’s career where he has logged multiple wins over winning teams.
  • Stafford is still 5-35 (.125) on the road against winning teams (2-2 this year).
  • Stafford is 3-28 (.097) against 12-win teams, but he did get the win over Tampa Bay (13-4) this year.
  • Stafford is 42-52-1 (.447) at 4QC/GWD opportunities in his career, but that record drops to 3-35 (.079) against teams with a winning record.
  • Stafford is still 0-53 when his team allows more than 24 points against a winning team. The Rams are 0-5 when allowing more than 24 points this year and 13-0 otherwise.

That last part feels most significant as the Buccaneers are used to scoring a lot of points. Since 2020, Tampa Bay is 26-0 when scoring at least 28 points, easily the best record in the league and the most such games.

That is why this weekend cannot be all about Stafford as road virtuoso performances by a quarterback are few and far between in NFL playoff history. He needs his defense to step up and there are big names in that group too with Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey. Despite those names and the injuries throughout the season to the Tampa Bay secondary, the Bucs still boast a championship-caliber defense, coordinated by Todd Bowles, who showed in the playoffs that he can adjust to specific opponents like he did for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

The Buccaneers rank No. 6 in points per drive allowed, No. 7 in takeaways per drive, No. 12 in third-down conversion rate, No. 4 in net yards per pass attempt, and allowed the third-fewest rushing yards. That bests the Rams’ defense in each category.

The Rams could catch a break this week with the health of the Tampa Bay offensive line, one of the best units in the league. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen were injured in the wild card game against the Eagles. Wirfs tried to return before leaving for good. Jensen was back almost immediately and finished the game. Neither practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, but there is optimism they’ll be on the field Sunday. Jensen in particular looks like a guy who could have his hand amputated and still want to return to the game. Maybe then Brady would deserve the excessive praise if he played with a center missing a hand. But chances are his studs will be there against a Los Angeles defense that only ranks 25th in pressure rate (via Pro Football Reference), the lowest of any defense in the playoffs this year.

The Eagles had the second-lowest pressure rate among the playoff field, and they are much less aggressive with blitzing, but they still sacked Brady four times and held the Bucs to 4-of-13 on third down. It stands to reason to believe Jensen and Wirfs will not be 100% if they play Sunday. This is why that trio of Donald, Miller (sack in five straight games), and Leonard Floyd must cause havoc in Brady’s face if the Rams are to win this one. Despite their low pressure rate, the Rams had 50 sacks because of how impactful their talent can be when they get to the quarterback. Those guys have to get Brady’s jersey dirty early in this one. He took three sacks on 61 plays in Week 3.

In the secondary, I would shadow Mike Evans with Jalen Ramsey and double Rob Gronkowski on obvious passing downs. This is a different ballgame when Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are out. It changes to a speed & size matchup with Evans and Gronk having some advantages. But I’d make the other players earn it first. Gio Bernard led the Bucs with nine catches in Week 3. Brady will dink and dunk all day with those throws to the backs, but I’m confident I would not give up more than 24 points if Bernard is the leading receiver again. The Rams cannot let Evans and Gronk beat them.

But things really do come back to Stafford and if he’ll protect the ball well. He threw 13 interceptions in the last nine games of the regular season after having four picks in the first eight games.

Sean McVay’s defense held Brady to 13 points in the Super Bowl a couple years ago, but the offense was of no help that night. The offense has a grand total of 34 points in McVay’s three playoff losses combined. He brought in Stafford to change this history. Last season, the Rams went into Tampa Bay for a Monday night game in Week 11. Jared Goff threw 51 passes for 376 yards while the running game only contributed 19 carries for 37 yards. The Rams still scored 27 points and won by three with the defense forcing Brady into an ugly game. Stafford is 1-3 this year when he throws 40 passes, the only win coming against awful Detroit.

McVay’s plan the last three years against Tampa Bay has been to neglect the run game in favor of the pass. Will he continue that in a road playoff game? Stafford threw just 17 passes on Monday night against Arizona, the first game in his 186-game career where he threw less than 21 passes without leaving injured. That’s some way to win your first playoff game, but it wasn’t necessary to throw more with the way Arizona shit the bed all night.

Stafford is going to have to do more this week and I’m skeptical. If we go back to Week 3, he was outstanding. But Stafford had completions of 75 (TD) and 40 yards to DeSean Jackson, who is no longer with the team. No other play went for more than 22 yards. Cooper Kupp has been incredible all season and in recent games against Tampa Bay. He had two touchdowns in Week 3. The only two games Kupp was under 92 yards all year were the two home games against Arizona. Odell Beckham also looked good on Monday, though he is still averaging career lows across the board with the Rams this season. Cam Akers looked so explosive despite his Achilles injury this summer.

But chances are the Rams are not going to have a good rushing performance this week, and the defense is going to be tested far more than it was against the Cardinals. Stafford is going to have to deliver in the biggest game of his career, and even then, he might need to pull that horseshoe out of Brady’s ass to get the win.

Buccaneers: Everything Is Alright?

For two decades, the best way to beat Tom Brady is to make him play poorly. Take an early lead, force him into mistakes, and put the game out of reach so he can’t come back to win it. Don’t let his team hang around. His statistics in losses have always been well behind those of his lofty peers, because if he is playing well, there’s almost no hope of beating his teams.

This is why I am really concerned about the Rams pulling off another win over this team. In Week 3, Brady dropped back 61 times and did not have a turnover in a game that had zero turnovers from both teams. Brady was 41-of-55 for 432 yards, a touchdown, a rush touchdown, and the Buccaneers only turned it over on downs once. They also missed a 55-yard field goal before halftime, which was set up by a Brady strip-sack by Aaron Donald that the Bucs recovered.

It was not an offensive masterclass, but it was not a total dud like he had in the 9-0 shutout loss to the Saints, or turnover-filled losses against the Saints and Washington this year. It was a 34-24 game where the Rams were just better on offense at home. Brady was also his team’s leading rusher with 14 yards as the Bucs abandoned the run. That is unlikely to happen again this week, especially with Leonard Fournette likely making his return.

This is not the formula to beating Brady, who is 45-4 when he throws for at least 325 yards with zero interceptions. Of course, that Rams game is only the second game in that 49-game sample where his team didn’t score at least 29 points. Brady is also 111-7 (.941) when averaging at least 7.2 yards per attempt and not throwing an interception.

In 2020, the Rams delivered on defense in Tampa Bay the way you want to see. Brady had a season-low 2.8 completed air yards per attempt and 3.2 YAC/completion. He threw a season-high 13 inaccurate throws. The Rams barely pressured him, but it didn’t matter because they covered well, intercepted two passes, including one in crunch time, and they held Brady to 4.5 YPA, his second-worst game with Tampa Bay. That would work this week. But in Week 3, the Rams actually blitzed Brady 13 times, pressured him 11 times (season high and second-highest rate), and he still threw for a first down on 41.4% of his passes (fourth-highest game of season). That’s not going to be winning defense for the Rams this time around.

The Buccaneers are not whole on offense, but if the line is intact, then Gronk and Evans are plenty to get things moving. Gronk had one of his lowest snap counts in Week 3 as that was the game he took a shot in the back, which started his injury problems. He’s been playing at a high level once again. Evans just had a season-high 117 yards against the Eagles.

If the Buccaneers win the turnover battle, they are likely winning this game. In the last two postseasons, Tampa Bay has seven touchdown drives that started in opponent territory. The rest of the NFL has nine in this time. Only the Patriots (11) and Chiefs (seven) have as many playoff touchdown drives on short fields as Tampa Bay since 2014, and the Bucs did not even make the playoffs in 2014-19.

Shawn Hochuli, Ed’s son, is the head referee for this game, which is probably not a good thing for either team or any fan watching the game. His games have had 1,903 penalty yards this season, the third-highest amount in the league. His crew called 28 penalties in Dallas on Thanksgiving, but he may not be that biased towards home teams. He also flagged Tampa Bay 11 times on opening night against Dallas. But chances are this game will trend towards more penalties with him getting his precious screen time, a Hochuli family tradition. At the very least, it’s not Carl Cheffers, who called the most penalties this year and gave Tampa Bay two phantom DPI flags in the second quarter of Super Bowl 55. Then again, Hochuli called 22 DPI flags this year, tied with Cheffers for the second most.

The Prediction

The Rams have a lot of the right elements to deal with Tampa Bay, but I’d sooner go bankrupt than back Stafford to overcome Brady’s luck in a road playoff game. After no turnovers in Week 3, I expect them to be the story of this game. The Rams are 6-1 in close games, the best record in the league, but they did just blow a 17-0 lead to the 49ers in excruciating fashion in Week 18.

I’ve been saying for weeks that Tampa Bay vs. Green Bay is all that matters in the NFC playoffs this year. It’s up to the 49ers and Rams to prove me wrong.

Final: Buccaneers 27, Rams 24