NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

After 271 games, the 2022 NFL regular season is over. The simplest preview of the playoffs is that it looks like a 3-team buzzsaw in the AFC (Chiefs-Bills-Bengals) and the 49ers may be tempting fate in the mine field that is the NFC and get to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback playing better than anyone could have imagined.

Plenty of playoff articles to come, but for now, let’s put Week 18 to rest with its eight comeback opportunities and relatively low drama. Let’s face it, there isn’t much to say about many of these games, and I don’t want to go into 2023 preview mode this early, so this will be a light finish.

But first, a look at how I did on the preseason predictions.

Season Predictions: Worst Fears Confirmed, But Not Exactly the Worst Year Ever

I always knew I had my work cut out for me after nailing so many picks for the 2021 season when I got 28 teams within two games of their final record. Regression to the mean was coming, and I took some chances on my 2022 NFL predictions with picking the Colts and Broncos to win double-digit games and make the playoffs, for Arizona to turn a messy offseason into another postseason, for the Rams to finish as the No. 1 seed for their title defense, and for the Chargers to unseat the Chiefs in the AFC West by one game.

Even one of my best predictions was one I couldn’t ultimately reap, because I said before Week 1 that my initial run through of the schedule was too kind to give the Eagles a 14-3 record, so I watered it down to 11-6 as my final prediction. Sure enough, they did finish 14-3 on their way to the top seed in the NFC.

At the end of the day, I was off by 2.78 wins on average, which is the same as I did in the 2020 pandemic season. A far cry from the 1.28 games in 2021, but not unchartered territory for me.

Since I had the Bills finishing 13-4 and Bengals finishing 9-8, and that game was thrown out, it probably deserves an asterisk to say I had a second team to the exact record when Buffalo was 13-3 and I had 13-4. But the Bills, my Super Bowl pick, still look good going into the playoffs, and after the Damar Hamlin story, I actually feel even more confident in them pulling together to finish this job. But still much work to be done for the Bills.

I’ll have more articles this week looking back where some of these teams went wrong or where I went wrong. Those West divisions certainly had me hoodwinked and bamboozled.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Lions at Packers: Did Detroit Just End Aaron Rodgers’ Career?

It is 5:30 AM and this is my last game to write about after a long weekend. I don’t really want to go down the eulogy for Aaron Rodgers rabbit hole again, but that could have been the end last night. The way he walked off the field with Randall Cobb at his side, the subtle salute to the fans before going in the tunnel, this felt different than the playoff loss to the 49ers last year.

As for the game, it was pretty much a greatest hits of Green Bay in a big home loss with playoff implications:

  • Aaron Jones lost another big fumble in scoring territory before halftime that the Lions turned into a field goal.
  • Defense gave up a huge 43-yard bomb to Kalif Raymond to the 1-yard line.
  • Some bad play around the red zone (misfires, sacks on third down) left the Packers settling for too many field goals.
  • A terrible fourth-and-1 run was snuffed out by the Lions at Green Bay’s own 32, which led to an early Detroit field goal.
  • Mason Crosby hit the crossbar on a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter.
  • Lions converted a fourth-and-2 on their way to the go-ahead touchdown drive with 5:55 left as Jamaal Williams scored two short touchdowns against his former team.
  • On a third-and-10, Rodgers flinched under pressure and just threw up a deep ball that was picked. Better than getting sacked or checking down for a yard, but he never saw the ball again with 3:27 left.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a pass in his prostate area.
  • The fearless Lions, playing with nothing to lose, were aggressive and smart in running out the clock by declining penalties, trying bold laterals by design, and ultimately putting the game away with a fourth-and-1 pass conversion from Goff to DJ Chark.

It really is a shame the Lions (9-8) were eliminated before the game started with Seattle’s win, and that their season is not continuing next week. Because this team is playing well and they can score. Jared Goff did not throw an interception in the last nine games this season and he will finish No. 5 in QBR (61.2) on the season. Crazy stuff.

Rodgers will turn 40 next season in December. Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all recently retired after their age-39 season. Does Rodgers follow suit? We’ll just have to wait and find out, but it really does seem like he’s gotten all he could get out of this run with the Packers. I have some faith that Matt LaFleur can make Jordan Love work, but it will be a lot different not seeing Rodgers in Green Bay.

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

Going back to Saturday night’s showdown for the AFC South, this really felt like some 1990s Tom Coughlin vs. Jeff Fisher matchup to me. The game was a grind after some early fireworks, including rookie Treylon Burks trying one of the wildest laterals you will ever see in a play where the clock was not a factor.

But the Titans ended up blowing a 10-0 lead, the 50th time (NFL record) that happened in the 2022 season, and they failed to score on their final five drives. You have to wonder if they win the game if they just play the most conservative approach possible down the stretch.

In the biggest game yet for the Trevor Lawrence era, the offense wasn’t exactly dealing. In fact, the Jaguars are the first team to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback win without gaining a first down in the fourth quarter since the 2000 Panthers against the Chargers (credit to ESPN Stats & Info for putting that one out there).

A game like this is why I really need to add a no decision column to my fourth-quarter comeback opportunity records for quarterbacks, teams, and coaches. Lawrence had the ball in a 16-10 game to start the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars were already in field goal range thanks to a Josh Dobbs interception. The drive gained 7 yards (no first downs) and ended with a 36-yard field goal.

Okay, but it was still a 16-13 Tennessee lead. The Jaguars went three-and-out on their next two drives with Lawrence going 0-for-5 in success rate (0-for-6 in the quarter).

But after draining more than 5:00 off the clock and barely over 3:00 left to play, the Titans faced a third-and-6. Josh Dobbs had a decent game all things considered to this point. But the last thing he could do was turn the ball over. The blitz came and got him from the blind side and he lost the ball on a strip-sack that was picked up and returned for a 37-yard game-winning touchdown by Josh Allen with 2:51 left. It was close to being a forward pass, and the review was surprisingly fast, but it did look like a fumble.

Huge mistake. The Titans aren’t built for comebacks this year with the weak passing game. Dobbs took a sack at midfield that brought up a third-and-12, and the Titans took their first timeout at 1:46. Right there, I felt like they should have hurried up and ran the next play. If they couldn’t make 12 yards in two plays, then maybe they could use their three timeouts to get the ball back for a second drive.

But when you use the timeout, you are basically putting the game all on this drive, and a false start only made it worse to bring up third-and-17. Then a 4-yard completion burned a second timeout for the Titans, and now the game was going to be decided on a fourth-and-13. I thought that was managed poorly.

Dobbs threw well short of the sticks and the play gained 9 yards before the Titans turned it over on downs. Game over. Jaguars win the AFC South and their biggest game since the 2017 AFC Championship Game. Jaguars come back from 2-6 to 9-8 while the Titans lost seven in a row after a 7-3 start. We’ll see if Mike Vrabel doesn’t fall on the sword for this slide. They already canned the general manager (Jon Robinson) in December.

The Jaguars are going to have to play better to beat the Chargers, but that should be a much more offensive game than this one. Tennessee was tough against the run and the Jaguars only had 10 handoffs for 22 yards. Look for much more from Travis Etienne against the Chargers.

But yeah, I did not credit Lawrence for a fourth-quarter comeback in this one since the game-winning score was fully provided by the fumble touchdown. It clearly was not a game-winning drive either. I’ll have to consider working on a no contest column after this game in the offseason. Similarly, Kirk Cousins should get a no contest for his 4QC attempt against Buffalo since the go-ahead score was that fumble return touchdown. Games like this are tricky and they seem to be popping up a little more frequently these days.

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

Before this season, Geno Smith had three fourth-quarter comeback wins in his career, but he had two huge ones this year against the Rams to help push the Seahawks (9-8) into the most unexpected playoff spot of the season.

The Seahawks had to come back in the fourth quarter against the Rams to win 19-16 in overtime, then needed to watch the Lions upset the Packers at night to get the job done for the playoffs.

It didn’t seem likely when the day started, but what has ever seemed likely with this Seattle team? From Geno making the Pro Bowl and leading the NFL in completion percentage to Kenneth Walker quite possibly winning Offensive Rookie of the Year – he was my pick at +3000 odds in an August article – to winning four more games than Russell Wilson’s Broncos to losing home games against the Raiders and Panthers, this season has been crazy for Pete Carroll’s group.

Baker Mayfield threw up a prayer in overtime that was intercepted, and from there, Seattle drove into field goal range to let Jason Myers redeem himself from missing off the upright to end regulation with a 32-yard field goal to win the game.

The Seahawks are going to be a double-digit underdog in San Francisco next week, but you never know against a rookie quarterback in a division game.

Crazy to think we may have seen the last of Sean McVay coaching the Rams (5-12) in this game too. Big changes coming there.

Jets at Dolphins: Can We Just Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water Here?

I’m sorry, but Skylar Thompson vs. Joe Flacco in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter just reeks of irrelevant end to the season for AFC East Stooges rather than a postseason-clinching game.

But this is where we were after Miami’s five-game losing streak. They got the proper help from the Bills beating the Patriots, and they just needed to beat the lowly Jets.

As much as I didn’t want to see overtime either, I wish the refs didn’t feel the need to call a phantom horse collar tackle.

That wiped out a third-and-7 situation and put the Dolphins inside the Jets 40. Four plays later, the Dolphins hit a 50-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead with 18 seconds left. The Jets tried the lateral play, but all it did was go down as a safety, giving the Dolphins (-3.5) perhaps the most unearned, inexplicable cover of the season in a 11-6 final.

Miami gets the rubber match in Buffalo next week. They probably will give the Bills a better game than the Steelers would have, but if Tua Tagovailoa cannot go, then it is not an attractive matchup in my book. The AFC East was awfully close to sending just one team to the playoffs, but we’ll see what the Dolphins can do in Buffalo.

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

We can stop talking about the coin flip and unsettled AFC North race. The Bengals won it fair and square this year after beating the Ravens 27-16 in a slog of a game that saw 28 total possessions between the teams.

The Bengals quickly led 17-0, but things did not come easy for the offense after that. They were fortunate to be facing third-string rookie quarterback Anthony Brown, who threw two early picks before hitting some big plays later.

Really, I’m not looking forward to seeing these teams match up a third time next week in Cincinnati. Not unless Lamar Jackson makes his return, but even then, given his playoff history and more than a month of missing practice, how good can he be? I think the Bengals could have held back and ran a fake game plan in this one to still get the easy win. I’m not expecting much from the Ravens next week.

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

While it was likely hard for the Bengals to take the field of the site of Monday night’s tragedy with Damar Hamlin collapsing with cardiac arrest, imagine the emotions going through Buffalo players on Sunday. Fortunately, they got the best news possible on Hamlin this week, and they were able to put on a show with him following along on social media.

Nyheim Hines put his name in the history books by returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, the kind of thing you could only script if we’re being honest. Then he did it again later for a 101-yard return just 13 seconds after the Patriots took their only lead of the game. There were four kickoff return touchdowns all season before Sunday, and Hines just added a pair himself. Incredible stuff.

And yes, this is just the second time under Bill Belichick that the Patriots have allowed two special teams return touchdowns in a game. The last was against the 2015 Eagles and those were both related to punts (one return, one blocked punt return).

The Bills needed this too after a shaky start with back-to-back turnovers between the quarters. But Josh Allen found some big plays and continues to be one of the toughest quarterbacks Bill Belichick has had to defend. He finished with 254 yards and three touchdown passes, including a dagger to Stefon Diggs for 49 yards on third-and-10 to take a 35-23 lead in the fourth quarter. That stood after Mac Jones tossed two picks, including a deflected one in the final minutes.

For the third year in a row, the Bills emphatically beat the Patriots late in the year to show who runs the AFC East now. This is technically the second season in a row the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss against the Bills.

The Bills are the No. 2 seed, will probably be the last 13-3 team we ever see, but they are still in position to do what they wanted to do all along this year. The AFC Championship Game will even be played at a neutral site should it be Bills vs. Chiefs again.

Something tells me that crowd will be heavily tilted to Buffalo no matter where the game is played.

Browns at Steelers: Pittsburgh Bests Cleveland for 30th Straight Season

What does that title mean? Since 1990, the Steelers have finished ahead of the Browns in the final regular-season standings in every season for a total of 30 straight. Remember that the Browns did not exist in 1996-98 before coming back in 1999.

When you get to face a sack merchant like Deshaun Watson, it was kind of inevitable that Pittsburgh would pull this off. I called it months ago:

I did not call for a 9-8 season and nearly sneaking into another postseason, but that happened too. The Steelers finish the season allowing no more than 17 points in seven straight games, their longest streak since 2001.

It was not the prettiest win. Diontae Johnson came up just short of a touchdown, making scoreless history with the most targets (147) and catches (86) in a season without a touchdown catch. Kenny Pickett also failed to throw multiple touchdowns in any game this season, though he did find George Pickens on a 31-yard score in this one – only the second offensive touchdown that occurred outside the red zone for Pittsburgh in 2022.

Watson took seven sacks, and it could have been several more if he wasn’t elusive. But on one sack, he was clearly pulled down by the facemask, yet no flag was thrown as if the referee acknowledged who he was, sided with the dozens of accusers, and said to hell with this predator. I can’t say I didn’t laugh my ass off at that moment. However, if you ever wanted hard proof that make-up calls exist in major sports, watch the roughing the passer call on Cam Heyward they later bailed out Cleveland with to make up for that missed facemask. Total bullshit.

The fact that came the drive right after the missed facemask makes it such a clear case of a make-up call. The Browns would get a touchdown to make it 20-14, but for Pickett’s inaccuracies on the day, he was money on every third-and-long down the stretch. The Steelers scored to put it away at 28-14, just the second time all season they scored more than 24 points.

At the end of the day, losing 16-10 in Miami was a killer for the Steelers’ wild card hopes, but I think this team would have been smoked in Buffalo next week anyway. I’m mostly just mad that they let Zach Wilson and the Jets score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in Week 4. That was the real kick in the nads this season.

It was a weird season for the Steelers. They beat Brady, they beat the Raiders, they split with every AFC North rival, and yet they still missed the playoffs despite a 9-8 record to extend to a 19th straight non-losing season, tied with the 2001-19 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Expectations should be higher next year. As for Cleveland, what a joke Watson was this year after Jacoby Brissett played so well. Believe it or not, Brissett is going to finish No. 8 in QBR (59.7) this season. Watson did not qualify with enough attempts, but his 38.6 would have ranked 27th between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

Yeah, it’s been a wild year for many around the NFL. But at least we still have the standard of Pittsburgh finishing ahead of Cleveland in the AFC.

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

The first game this weekend had some of the least drama as the Chiefs made quick work of the Raiders to wrap up the No. 1 seed in a 31-13 win. No 17-0 comeback this time. No 30-29 finish. No 37-34 shootout between Jarrett Stidham and Patrick Mahomes like Stidham had with the 49ers’ top-ranked defense a week ago. No, just domination by the Chiefs, who had six sacks.

The game was a letdown in that regard as you would have thought it’d be more dramatic with the way these teams played so many close games. It was only the second time this season the Raiders were not in a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs no doubt picked on an easy schedule down the stretch and took full advantage of the Bills-Bengals cancellation to get to 14-3 and the No. 1 seed despite losing to the next two seeds. But one thing I will say about the AFC West race that never materialized is that the Broncos (5) and Raiders (6) both finished with as many wins as they had blown leads in the fourth quarter. Those teams were absolutely underachievers, but they were also much better than their records.

Things could improve quickly with better coaching in 2023, though it seems like McDaniels will be safe in Las Vegas. I’m not sure how – just losing to Jeff Saturday should be a firable offense.

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

Jalen Hurts returned after a two-game absence for his shoulder injury, but it was not the most inspiring 22-16 win over a Giants team playing a bunch of backups and the Eagles favored by 16.5 points at home.

You could twist yourself into a pretzel debating if the game’s final score was indicative of the closeness, but you cannot deny Hurts showed some rust and it just wasn’t that impressive of a win given who New York was playing, including Davis Webb at quarterback. It was the first game all season where Hurts did not throw or run for a touchdown, though Boston Scott scored another one to prove he is the Giants Killer.

But the Eagles let a 19-0 game get to a miracle onside kick recovery away from being really interesting at the end. Ultimately, they are still the No. 1 seed, but I will take the 49ers over them in a playoff game, and I still think Tampa Bay will beat this team if they match up in the divisional round.

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

I did not watch a lick of rookie quarterback Sam Howell in the preseason, but I know his stats were impressive and likely the result of good work. Granted, we’ve seen fool’s gold from rookie quarterback preseason stats before with Blake Bortles and Daniel Jones, so take those with a grain of salt.

But if I was given a choice of Carson Wentz or Sam Howell to start against the Browns last week, I would have gone to Howell no doubt. You know how I feel about Wentz. He’s the guy you go to if you don’t want to advance in the playoffs. If he played this game, I doubt he wins it too.

We have our first .500 team in the 17-game era as Washington’s upset win produces an 8-8-1 record. It was an upset with Dallas favored by 7.5 points on the road, and even if the Cowboys were not properly motivated, this performance was a shit show. They were trying to become just the seventh team to score 27 points in a 10th-straight game, but they couldn’t even get to 7 points this week.

Prescott threw another pick-six and was 14-of-37 for 128 yards. This was even worse than the performance he started the year with in Tampa Bay in Week 1’s 19-3 loss.

Oh yeah, it’s finally time for the playoff matchup I’ve been talking about since October. Is there any doubt the Cowboys are going to shit the bed in Tampa Bay with turnovers and lose that game too? I don’t even think they should be favored at this point.

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

Watching Brock Purdy throw multiple touchdown passes in six straight games while Kenny Pickett couldn’t do it once this year in twice the games is frustrating. You can’t just put it all on scheme and weapons either. George Kittle caught 11 touchdowns this year, most of them from Purdy in the last month, and he never had more than six scores in a season before 2022. It just seems like Kyle Shanahan trusts this rookie in a way he didn’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo.

But we’ll find out plenty in the weeks to come with Purdy in the playoffs as he attempts to become the first rookie quarterback to start (and win) a Super Bowl. He’s already seen Seattle’s defense once and did fine in that game, but we’ll see how it goes. Being the No. 2 seed is pretty good this year in the NFC as it likely means Seattle, Minnesota, then possibly hosting Tampa Bay, the team they were up 35-0 on a few weeks ago.

This could be the year we see a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl, and let’s face it, in the first 56 seasons there were almost no situations this advantageous between the weapons and defense around a rookie quarterback. No one would really blink an eye if he wasn’t Mr. Irrelevant and a third-string rookie quarterback.

As for Arizona, a miserable season, but salute to J.J. Watt on an incredible career. One of the best to ever do it and he was a force down the stretch this season. Injuries are the only thing that slowed him down.

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

The Buccaneers were my upset pick this week, because there was no way Tom Brady was going to play in a game just to accumulate some meaningless counting records for most pass attempts and completions in a season just because he throws the ball more than anyone in 17-game seasons.

No way was he playing for records over not having his first losing record (8-9) or suffering his first loss against an Atlanta team he was 11-0 against.

But it happened. Even when Brady could have come in at the Atlanta 22 after his defense forced a fumble in a 10-10 game in the second quarter, he stayed on the bench while Blaine Gabbert came in to lead that short-field touchdown drive. It would be the last score of the game for the Bucs, who also played Kyle Trask in the fourth quarter of a 30-17 loss. Total preseason approach.

The Buccaneers finish with a losing record and Brady’s first loss to the Falcons. I’m still stunned that happened. At least Desmond Ridder finally threw the first two touchdown passes of his career, and rookie running back Tyler Allgeier had a big game to finish with over 1,000 rushing yards.

But the Bucs are still beating Dallas next week. Just accept it. It’s inevitable.

Chargers at Broncos: Who Was Brandon Staley Trying to Impress?

You could argue Brandon Staley did as poor a job as anyone in managing their team’s situation in Week 18. He is new to this postseason thing, but Staley came into the game locked into the No. 5 seed and going to Jacksonville next week. I’m not one for blowing these games off with 60 minutes of rest, but you have to keep the big picture in mind at some point.

It’s not like the Chargers were getting productive minutes out of this game. They lost Mike Williams to injury in the second quarter. That’s tough to blame Staley for, though he has been an injured player this year and probably should have been made inactive in the first place. But the Williams injury should have been a reminder to not push for this one, and to definitely not have Keenan Allen in the game late in the fourth quarter catching a touchdown pass from Chase Daniel in a losing effort.

Like, what the hell was the point of that? It’s not like he was trying to get to 1,000 yards on the season or anything. Asking Justin Herbert to throw nearly 40 passes in three quarters of action was just insane on Staley’s part, and all the Chargers got out of it was a loss, no momentum going into next week, and possibly a big injury to one of their best receivers. Not good.

Meanwhile, I got burned badly riding with Russ this season in Denver, but this game was the kind of player I expected to see show up more often. Wilson had three completions of 50-plus yards on his way to 283 yards and three touchdown passes. It was the first time all season the Broncos scored 30 points.

Depending on the head coach hire in Denver, I’ll probably pick them again next year to do well. The jokes have been there all season, but I think we’re underestimating how quickly they could turn things around with the right coach. This team blew five fourth-quarter leads and had plenty of talent on injured reserve. Let’s not bury Wilson’s career just yet.

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

Unlike the Chargers, the Vikings did this right by getting good work in for the starters before resting and winning comfortably, 29-13 for a change, against the Bears. They even won big without intercepting Nathan Peterman, who started in place of Justin Fields, once on 19 passes. Tim Boyle played too and played the role of Peterman better than the OG himself, throwing two picks on eight passes.

With the Chicago loss and Houston win (thanks, Lovie), the Bears hold the No. 1 pick with a 3-14 record. A lot to say about this going forward, but I think you have to at least work out and interview the top quarterbacks, including Alabama’s Bryce Young. It’s a really bad look for Fields to get drafted high in 2021, then two years later you are picking No. 1 in the draft with him there. That’s not normal nor is his lack of passing production.

Interesting times ahead in Chicago with major cap space and draft capital.

Texans at Colts: Lovie Smith’s Last Victory for the Bears

The Texans already fired Lovie Smith on Sunday night, not even waiting for the clock to strike on Black Monday as it’s known around the league. I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place, but that makes two years in a row the Texans went one-and-done on a coach. That’s some Jim Tomsula/Chip Kelly stuff there (2015-16 49ers).

But I hope it was an act of defiance and a nod to his old team in Chicago that Lovie played for the win in his final game even though it would hand over the No.1 pick in the draft. He’s not losing to a chump like Jeff Saturday, who only beat a bigger chump in Josh McDaniels in his first game coaching.

The Texans led by 10 points multiple times but sure seemed to be in tank mode after back-to-back interceptions by Davis Mills, including a pick-six. The Colts took a late 31-24 lead and it would have been very easy for the Texans to come up short while looking like they tried everything to win.

Maybe that was even the plan, but the Colts kept giving up fourth-and-long conversions. The worst was a fourth-and-20 when an Indy defensive back made Rahim Moore look competent by going up for an interception, seeing the ball go through his hands, and landing in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left.

Of course you go for two in this situation, and even then the Texans could have intentionally ran a garbage play to secure the No. 1 pick. But they converted and held on for the 32-31 win.

The Texans finish 3-13-1, edged out by the Bears and their 3-14 record. The Bears even beat Houston way back in Week 3, so you can say Lovie gave them two gifts this season.

Was it worth it? We’ll see if someone offers a king’s ransom to the Bears for that top pick. Lovie wasn’t a good hire, but they gave him a terrible team to work with. It was a no-win situation this year.

Panthers at Saints: They’re Going to Do This Shit Again Next Year, Aren’t They?

I’d prefer to pretend this 10-7 game didn’t even exist, but I guess I have to cover Sam Darnold getting a game-winning drive in a game where he was 5-of-15 for 43 yards, two interceptions, and a 2.8 passer rating. Yes, 2.8.

This was about the worst outcome possible for the NFC South if you wanted to see major changes next year. Just the last two minutes alone encapsulate why these teams need to clean house at head coach and quarterback. Darnold threw a pick, the Saints totally botched the situation and burned 16 seconds before having a 55-yard field goal blocked, then Darnold made one completion that set up a game-winning field goal with no time left.

It is the first Carolina game-winning drive since September 29, 2019. The streak of 50 straight losses when trailing in the fourth quarter still stands and will have to be broken next season. But if the Panthers keep the same coach and quarterback, it may not end again.

With the bottom three teams finishing at 7-10 and Tampa Bay at 8-9, watch them all think this is fine because they “were close” to winning the shit division. So, they’ll stick with Steve Wilks and Sam Darnold in Carolina, Andy Dalton and Dennis Allen in New Orleans, Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder (better argument there at least) in Atlanta.

Why would Brady bail on that division when it’s practically a free ticket to a home playoff game in a sad conference? Look at the AFC where seven first-round quarterbacks are in the playoffs, and someone like Kenny Pickett is going to want to crash that party next year. Don’t sleep on Russell Wilson turning things around with a new coach either, and Bryce Young might still end up in Houston.

The NFC is a con and I expect this postseason to play out accordingly. Bet on the LOAT now if you want the best price you’re going to get.

Next Week

  • PLAYOFFS!?
  • A 3-0 sweep coming for the Seahawks at the hands of San Francisco?
  • Was 38-10 a rib-injury influenced fluke between the Chargers and Jaguars?
  • Can Tua Tagovailoa (or at least Teddy Bridgewater) return for the playoffs in Buffalo?
  • Will the Giants finally put an end to Minnesota’s close-game win streak?
  • Can Lamar Jackson return for the playoffs, and will he actually play well this time?
  • How badly are the Cowboys going to implode in Tampa Bay on Monday night? Thank Christ that game will not have Tony Romo on the call. I’ll Manning Cast the shit out of this one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 17

I have been warning people for weeks about how shaky and fraudulent this NFC is. On Sunday, the top three teams almost all lost, but the 49ers were able to pull one out in overtime because the Raiders are just that creative at losing games under Josh McDaniels.

But the Eagles lost for the second week in a row, and Minnesota’s close-game magic is still intact after another ass-kicking. This time it was at the hands of Green Bay, which just has to win at home against Detroit to make the playoffs again.

Great job, NFC. Even when Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are playing the least-inspiring football of their careers, you can’t drive the stake through the heart and rid yourselves of them. The Buccaneers won the NFC South again as expected, but you won’t believe how many close games the Panthers have lost in the fourth quarter going back to 2018 now. Scroll down to the second game recap for the answer.

Blowouts were up this week, and only seven games featured a comeback opportunity. Let’s just hope that means they are saving a classic finish for Monday night when the Bills meet the Bengals. I strongly believe more now than at any point this season that the best postseason result is to see that three-way battle play out in the AFC with the Bills/Chiefs/Bengals and the last one standing takes on the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

But that might be too much trust in the team that nearly lost to Jarrett Stidham on a wild Sunday.

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Raiders: The Purdy-Stidham Shootout We Never Knew We Needed

It was just last week when I said I was getting bored already of the Brock Purdy-led 49ers. Bored of the wire-to-wire wins. Bored of the defense being great. Show me what happens if he has to win a high-scoring game or come back late. Show me if he can bounce back from a mistake. Give me as much info as possible before the playoffs to see how he might handle different situations, because things are not always going to be this easy.

Well, little did I expect one of the season’s best shootouts to come between Purdy and Jarrett Stidham, the latter making his first NFL start in place of the benched Derek Carr. If you told someone in August this would be a Week 17 game, they would assume both teams had horrible seasons and injuries.

Well, there have been injuries, and the Raiders are having a horrible season. But they are undeniably the most creative team at finding ways to lose. The Raiders have now blown six fourth-quarter leads this year, and this was the fifth time they have blown a double-digit lead.

But the finish to this one was wild with almost every drive ending in a turnover or score. Just when you thought the 49ers would pull away after a well-designed YAC play, the Raiders would hold them or answer with their own big play.

Even after the 49ers took a 34-27 lead with 2:17 left, Stidham confidently led the team right down the field to tie. Davante Adams made an incredible catch for 45 yards, keeping the ball from hitting the ground. Adams definitely helped Stidham a lot, but it’s not like Carr played without Adams this year. I’m not sold Carr could have repeated this Stidham performance, throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns and taking a top-ranked defense to 34-34 in overtime.

But it really should not have gone to overtime. Purdy locked onto Brandon Aiyuk all the way down the field, and even got away with a pop-up ball after he was hit to get another completion to Aiyuk to set up a field goal. But before you could think about crowning a new LOAT, Robbie Gould badly missed a 41-yard field goal wide right. We’d go to overtime where the Raiders won the coin toss. Again, not LOAT material.

But then the other shoe dropped as Stidham was intercepted and the ball was returned to the Las Vegas 7. Purdy came out and took a knee, because otherwise I wouldn’t be giving any credit for a game-winning drive. Gould then redeemed himself with a 23-yard field goal to win it 37-34.

Incredibly, the game of the day’s overtime finish was seen by very few around the country because of absurd NFL broadcasting rules. It is 2023 now, so I’m not sure how that can still happen.

I felt denied the chance to see the Raiders blow another one in real time. But this was definitely right up there with Marcus Mariota vs. P.J. Walker (37-34 in Week 8) as the unexpected shootout of the season.

Panthers at Buccaneers: The Inevitable NFC South Outcome

It may have taken 17 weeks and sunk to lows few could have imagined, but the 2022 NFC South race is over, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won the division title for the second year in a row. Just like we expected.

It took another double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter and three Sam Darnold turnovers to pull it off, but you couldn’t say same old 2022 Bucs in this game. This was different as Tom Brady played his best game of the season, and really one of the best of his career in the 30-24 win.

When these teams met in Week 7, Mike Evans dropped a long touchdown pass on the first drive despite being wide open. When I saw that, I figured they were going to kill Carolina that day, but the blunder seemed to set a tone for the rest of the day, and the Bucs never pulled themselves out of it and lost 21-3 in a shocker. Since then, the team’s play has been so poor offensively that we are just used to seeing this now. They win after defenses get tired in the fourth quarter and they can go hurry-up just like they did in Arizona last week.

But Sunday was different. Even when Carolina took a 14-0 lead early, it’s not like they were making Brady play poorly, which is always the most surefire way to beat him. You are not going to rely on winning a shootout at the end or making his teammates screw up. You beat him by beating him down and making him play like shit. This has been the case since 2001. Chris Godwin fumbled a pass on the opening drive for the Bucs, but they didn’t fall apart this time after a first-drive mistake. Ryan Succop also failed on three different kicks on the day.

Evans not only made up for Week 7, but he took full advantage of the secondary not having corner Jaycee Horn (wrist surgery) by constantly getting open down the same right sideline and catching three touchdowns to go along with 207 yards in maybe the best game of his career.

When the Bucs fell behind 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Evans was still the key target with touchdown catches of 57 and 30 to make the comeback and take a 24-21 lead. But Darnold had his chance to be the hero. He had two turnovers earlier in the game, snapping his streak of four straight games without an interception.

But Darnold’s defense sacked Brady on a third down, made him so angry he spiked the ball and drew a 5-yard penalty for delay of game, and Darnold was given 2:32 to deliver his own signature drive in the biggest game of his career.

It went about as well as you expect from a quarterback with a 3-14 record at fourth-quarter comebacks. On the very first snap, Darnold was sacked and stripped of the ball. The Bucs took over at the Carolina 6. Two plays later, Brady snuck in the touchdown for a 30-21 lead after Succop missed the extra point.

Carolina got a field goal to make it 30-24, but it did not recover the onside kick. Good timeout management helped the Panthers get the ball back with 26 seconds left, and it could have been in incredible field position after a bad snap on the punt. But the punter was able to pick the ball up and somehow gather himself to get off an incredible kick downed inside the 3. But a penalty negated that and there was a re-kick.

Still, that play really saved the day for Tampa as Carolina could have taken over 30 or 35 yards away from the lead. Instead, Darnold had to go 92 yards in 26 seconds without a timeout. Yeah, good luck. The lateral play to end it was one of the better attempts you’ll see, but it ultimately failed.

That was the end of the NFC South race. Brady finished with 432 yards on a reasonable 45 attempts this week. Darnold had 341 yards, but the three turnovers were costly. As expected, the vaunted Carolina running game was held in check with just 16 carries for 47 yards from the running backs this week.

So, you could say it was same old Panthers. The stench of Matt Rhule is hard to get out, but these issues have been going on even longer than his arrival in 2020.

  • The Carolina Panthers have lost 50 straight games when trailing in the fourth quarter.
  • Carolina’s last 4QC win was October 21, 2018 in Philadelphia, a wild one from a 17-0 deficit in a 21-17 win.
  • Since that day, the Panthers are 0-29 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, or the games where they had the ball, down 1-to-8 points.

This is an insane stretch spanning five seasons now. We just saw Tampa Bay the last two Sundays win a game after trailing by double digits in the fourth. You don’t need a Brady to do this. The next game up is Pittsburgh and rookie Kenny Pickett has marched down the field for a game-winning touchdown in back-to-back weeks.

Twenty-nine straight losses? It is absolutely embarrassing. Even the last game-winning drive for the Panthers was in 2019 in a game where Kyle Allen threw an incomplete pass in a 10-10 game against Houston on the first play of the fourth quarter, then Joey Slye made a 55-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead in a 16-10 win. Not exactly the stuff of legends.

I have no idea if Brady will retire again or try to join another team, but since the 49ers don’t need him, he would be crazy to leave this NFC South. It is the gift that keeps on giving, and since the race still turned out to be this close, don’t be surprised if his new Three Stooges decide to not make wholesale changes for 2023.

Brady can win the South again with a sad record, host a playoff game, and who knows what can happen when you have this many Perennial NFC Pissants who can implode in January when you are talking about the Packers, Vikings, Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers.

He will never go back to the AFC when he has this advantage in the NFC.

Steelers at Ravens: Latest Prime-Time Chapter in the Rivalry Delivers

Steelers-Ravens is the only division rivalry in the NFL where the teams can play entertaining games despite neither reaching 20 points. They did it again Sunday night in a 16-13 classic after Kenny Pickett delivered a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute for the second week in a row.

Pickett did very little before that last drive, but it was that kind of game with the Steelers rushing for nearly 200 yards with Najee Harris (111) going over 100 for the first time this season.

Baltimore killed the Steelers on the ground in Week 14, but Pittsburgh did a better job holding them to 120 yards in this game, 95 fewer than last time. Pickett also avoided the three interceptions that Mitch Trubisky threw in that 16-14 loss.

The Steelers had a rough sequence on defense late in the first half when Cam Heyward was called for a ridiculous flag at the bottom of a pile that ended up costing the Steelers four points on a late touchdown pass when it should have been fourth down and a field goal attempt. But the defense stepped up in the second half and gave Pickett enough chances to get it done again in the fourth quarter.

The third chance was the charm, starting with 4:16 left at the Pittsburgh 20. Pickett had three big completions on the drive, including a 28-yard completion at the two-minute warning. But he saved his best play for the third-and-8 when it looked like the Steelers would never crack the end zone after settling for field goals all night. Pickett escaped pressure and improvised to find Harris in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left to take a 16-13 lead. Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to put the game away with an interception off Tyler Huntley with 13 seconds left.

What Pickett has done the last two weeks is incredible in the rarity of it all. Maybe it deserves a tiny asterisk because of how historically bad the Raiders and Ravens are in 2022 at holding these leads. Yes, this technically is another double-digit blown lead after halftime for the Ravens, who led 13-3 in the third quarter.

But just consider how infrequently the other great quarterbacks of this century have pulled off what Pickett has done two weeks in a row now, and that is lead a game-winning touchdown drive in the final 5:00 when only a touchdown would do (trailing 4-6 points).

Game-winning TD drives led in final 5:00 of 4Q in career (down 4-6 points)

  • Tom Brady – 9 (2002 CHI, 2007 BAL, 2009 BUF, 2013 NO, 2013 CLE, 2017 PIT, 2021 NYJ, 2022 LAR, 2022 NO)
  • Drew Brees – 4 (2002 KC, 2010 DAL, 2016 SD, 2018 PIT)
  • Peyton Manning – 3 (1998 NYJ, 2006 NYJ, 2009 NE)
  • Aaron Rodgers – 3 (2012 DET, 2014 MIA, 2018 CHI)
  • Patrick Mahomes – 2 (2020 ATL, 2022 LAC)
  • Ben Roethlisberger – 2 (2009 GB, 2010 BAL)
  • Kenny Pickett – 2 (2022 LV, 2022 BAL)

In the last two games, Pickett has already matched the career total of such drives from his predecessor, Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett and Mahomes are also the only quarterbacks on this little list who were able to notch a second before their seventh season as a starter.

After starting 2-6, the Steelers (8-8) are just one home win against Cleveland away from a 9-8 record, extending to a 19th straight season without a losing record. Pittsburgh actually was in more dire of a situation last year when it snuck into the playoffs in the final week. But even if the Steelers do not make it back this year, they are building something for the future here.

Saints at Eagles: Agents of Chaos

There is little rhyme or reason to the Saints since Drew Brees retired. They have destroyed Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady while getting destroyed by Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold in other games. They’ve been involved in three shutouts since last December, winning two of them. They gave up 40 points in Philadelphia last year but cut that in one fourth on Sunday.

These Saints are merely agents of chaos, and now that they are eliminated from the playoffs, all they can do is throw a real wrench in the NFC standings. This 20-10 win in Philadelphia is the latest in unexpected results for these Saints. Even though Andy Dalton took six sacks and threw a pick, he still outplayed Gardner Minshew, who also took six sacks in the game.

But trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Minshew threw a pick-six after Marshon Lattimore (back in the nick of time) jumped a route for an easy score with 5:27 left. Minshew could then only gain half of the yards needed on a fourth-and-22, and the Saints were able to run out the final 3:35 on the clock.

The Saints held the ball for 37 minutes and had a huge advantage in plays early in the game in building a 13-0 lead. A.J. Brown taking advantage of a blown coverage for a 78-yard touchdown was seemingly going to get the Eagles right back into it at 13-10 going into the fourth, but the Eagles were scoreless on their final four drives.

Even the vaunted QB push sneak was stuffed at midfield with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter. It’s not so much that Minshew did a poor job with it that Jalen Hurts would have done better, but the Eagles just rushed the whole play despite it being a big moment. They got zero push, and Minshew was just stopped cold for no gain. Maybe the stronger, more athletic Hurts gets more out of it, but it was poorly managed and rushed by my view. I do not believe good things happen on the sneak when you rush it and no one on the line is really dug in.

Last week it was the four turnovers that did the Eagles in, and almost none of that was Minshew’s fault. This week it was the one turnover, but it was on him and it was a crucial pick-six. The Eagles also lost one of their double-digit sack defenders (Josh Sweat) to a scary injury, but he says he will be back this season. Still, injuries are really piling up at the worst moment for this team.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion in October that the Eagles would be the No. 1 seed this year, but now they could be the No. 5 seed if they do not finish the job here. I think they beat the Giants, who really have nothing to play for next week, and wrap up the No. 1 seed next week. But this is an extremely bumpy ending for a team that once looked like it had no major flaws.

Vikings at Packers: The Worst 12-Win Team Ever

If the 2022 Vikings aren’t winning a close game, they are getting their ass kicked in a game decided before halftime.

In a first quarter that took forever, the Packers were up 14-3 despite Aaron Rodgers having one successful dropback. The Vikings allowed a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown and a deflected Kirk Cousins pass on a fourth down was intercepted for a touchdown.

It basically just snowballed from there as the Vikings managed to miss a field goal and see the Packers turn that into a 56-yard field goal to take a 27-3 lead into the locker room.

A scramble touchdown by Rodgers put the Packers up 41-3 in the fourth quarter before the Vikings added two touchdowns in garbage time to bring their pathetic season scoring differential to minus-19 points – by far the worst for a 12-win team in NFL history.

Incredibly, even with Minnesota’s garbage time numbers, Justin Jefferson finished with one catch for 15 yards on five targets. I am not convinced these Packers are a legitimate threat in the playoffs, but they are improved from the team that started 3-6. With how shaky this NFC field is, the Packers can do something this year if they beat Detroit at home and get in next week. They control their destiny, and they will be underdogs in the playoffs for a change.

Let me stress something: THIS IS NOT 2010 AGAIN. That team was elite on both sides of the ball and lost a lot of close games, including two after a concussion for Rodgers. But the Packers are creating turnovers and doing a lot of things to win in ways that go far beyond Rodgers playing like a Hall of Fame quarterback.

I think they win next week and get in the tournament. Then… who knows with this NFC. These Vikings are still alive for the No. 2 seed and they are as fraudulent as it gets.

Broncos at Chiefs: Too Close for Comfort Again

Like a “choose your own adventure” book, NFL games can have plenty of different outcomes, and that may be extra true when it is a division rematch. Every week we try to pick the right narrative of how a game will unfold, and that’s what we end up betting on with our predictions.

Conventional wisdom would have said the Denver team that nearly came back from 27-0 down last time against these Chiefs would give them a hard time again after firing Nathaniel Hackett. Maybe the defense that intercepted Patrick Mahomes three times can do something similar.

But my idea was to go against conventional wisdom, which does often work in the NFL as this league is devoid of logic at times (see Jarrett Stidham vs. 49ers). I liked the Chiefs to blow Denver out this time, and for Travis Kelce to end his four-game scoring drought. Jerick McKinnon can’t keep catching touchdowns every week, can he?

As it turns out, this was more of the same from last time. Mahomes only threw one pick instead of three, but it was a bad one in the red zone that kept things close in the first half. Throw in your obligatory KC fumble coming on a punt return to give Denver a short-field touchdown, and Denver ended up with a couple leads in this game, including a 17-13 lead to start the fourth quarter.

But Mahomes found Blake Bell on the first play of the final quarter, and he did his best Kelce impersonation for a 17-yard touchdown to take the lead again. Kelce and Mahomes have not connected on a touchdown in five straight full games together for the first time. McKinnon even scored two more receiving touchdowns, becoming the first running back since Bill Dudley in 1947 to score a receiving touchdown in five straight games.

After a terrible Russell Wilson interception, McKinnon’s second score seemed to give the Chiefs a comfy edge at 27-17. But this Kansas City defense is an adventure in itself. Wilson was able to overcome a fourth-down interception with an illegal use of hands penalty, and he finished the drive with his second rushing touchdown to make it 27-24.

Wilson got the ball back with plenty of time to take the lead, and it looked like he might do it with the ball nearing midfield after the two-minute warning. But we might be starting to see the impact of Mahomes as teams are really taking their time against him, wary of the clock situation if they score too fast. The Broncos probably tried an ill-advised run on third-and-5, and that set up fourth-and-2.

Wilson took a sack by Chris Jones, but the referees sure did swallow their whistles for a long time instead of calling in the grasp. It’s as if they were baiting the Chiefs to forcibly throw Wilson down or do something to get a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. Wilson even looked like he maybe got a throw off, but it goes down as a sack on fourth down.

Three plays later, Mahomes converted a third down to Kelce to ice another close call. But with 328 yards and three more touchdown passes, it will likely be enough for Mahomes to win MVP barring something unbelievable on Monday night and in the season finale against the Raiders. The Chiefs should be rooting hard for the Bengals on Monday night, because that is their best hope of getting the No. 1 seed. I do not see this team in the Super Bowl if they have to beat both the Bengals and Bills in the playoffs after their recent struggles with them. Can they beat one in Arrowhead? Sure. But I’ll fade them if they’re the No. 2 seed and they have to beat both, including (likely) Buffalo on the road in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs are 13-3, but they have been slumming it with the likes of the Broncos and Texans in the last month. It would be nice to see them pound the Raiders in Vegas on Saturday, but as the 49ers showed this week, no game is a sure thing this season with the way these teams play week to week.

Conventional wisdom is dead.

Dolphins at Patriots: Oh, Teddy

Well, I guess I was wrong that the Dolphins would beat the Patriots without Tua Tagovailoa, who is 4-0 against New England. Tua did not lead the offense to many points or have great stats in those games, but he by and large avoided the big mistakes that a Bill Belichick team will feast on.

And that is where Teddy Bridgewater screwed everything up. Leading 14-10 late in the third quarter, Bridgewater threw an interception, possibly broke his finger, and took a stiff arm to the face on the return touchdown. It is the fourth straight game the Patriots have scored a defensive touchdown, which had not been done by a defense since the vaunted 2002 Buccaneers.

Miami never led again, and Bridgewater may not play again this season with the finger injury. That leaves third-string rookie Skylar Thompson as the last quarterback standing in Miami, losers of five straight.

Thompson had a couple cracks at a go-ahead drive, but he too threw an interception against Belichick’s defense. Eventually, Mac Jones threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers, who redeemed himself by holding on after a tough landing to take a 23-14 lead with 4:37 left.

Miami eventually got the ball in the end zone to make it 23-21 with 1:04 left, but the Patriots recovered the onside kick to end the game. The Patriots are currently the No. 7 seed, but they are in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Steelers at 8-8 for that last wild card spot. But the Dolphins have the easier draw next week with the Jets while the Patriots have to play a Buffalo team that could have varied degrees of motivation. The Steelers need both teams to lose, which is hardly impossible.

But quarterback injuries are definitely killing the Dolphins again, and it may prove to be the final nail in the coffin on a once promising season.

Browns at Commanders: Does He Know?

The Commanders (7-8-1) are eliminated from the playoffs after a 24-10 home loss to Cleveland, which saw Deshaun Watson lead as many touchdown drives in the second half (three) as he led in his first 18 quarters this season.

There was some pretty atrocious tackling and coverage on Amari Cooper in that half, but let’s get right to the elephant in the room. Ron Rivera blew this season by going back to Carson Wentz at quarterback. Why did he think that would work given Wentz’s history of poor play in big moments? Why did Taylor Heinicke deserve to get benched after a couple of turnovers on the road against the league’s best defense (49ers)?

Worse, Rivera sounded and looked like he genuinely did not know his team could be eliminated Sunday.

Yeah, you’re done, and Wentz might get you fired next like he did Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, and he had a hand in Frank Reich’s departure in Indy after blowing that shot at the playoffs last year.

This is who he is, and it only took him three snaps to throw his first of three interceptions in the game. Let this be the last straw for teams thinking they can fix Wentz.

Colts at Giants: Welcome Back to the Playoffs, New York

At least one New York team is ending its playoff drought. The Giants (9-6-1) are in and the No. 6 seed after a 38-10 beatdown of the Colts. It was the first time all season the Giants scored more than 27 points in a game. Daniel Jones had a field day with 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground and two more through the air.

The Giants dominated the Indy line as you’d expect, but if this game will be remembered for anything, it would be this absurd celebration by Giants rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux right next to an injured Nick Foles, who would leave the game.

Absolute bellend. It wasn’t even a snow game. And you would think after the eighth or so snow angel, the Colts may have retaliated, but protecting the quarterback has not been a priority from that group this year.

Jets at Seahawks: Geno Smith Ends New York’s Season

It is only fitting that Pete Carroll and Geno Smith would end the postseason hopes of the first NFL team to get rid of both. Frankly, I have no idea why Seattle was a home underdog in this one. The Jets looked cooked last week, and even if they went to Mike White, he’s not exactly a proven commodity. He threw an early pick and looked inaccurate for much of the game.

Kenneth Walker hit a 60-yard run on the first snap from scrimmage, and that opening-drive touchdown was technically enough to outscore the Jets, who lost 23-6 after more sacks and hits on White. The Jets (7-9) are eliminated from the playoffs after a 6-3 start.

The Jets apparently need to shop for another quarterback for 2023. Hey, do you think Seattle would part with Geno Smith?

Rams at Chargers: The No. 5 Seed Is Possible for Chargers

Apparently, the Rams are only interesting every other week under Baker Mayfield. His no-show in the passing game made for an uninteresting 31-10 Chargers win, the first time since November 2017 that the Chargers won back-to-back games by at least 17 points.

But if you give Justin Herbert a defense and a running game (30 carries for 190 yards against the Rams), then look out. The Chargers (10-6) could beat the AFC South winner in the wild card round if they can get that No. 5 seed from the Ravens.

Meanwhile, with an 11th loss, the Rams have secured the worst Super Bowl title defense season in history with a 5-11 record. We know they sold out the long-term for the short-term success, but 5-11 is still a surprising and disappointing outcome.

Bears at Lions: Detroit Stays Alive with Rout of Chicago

The Lions (8-8) are back to .500 after making short work of the Bears in a 41-10 blowout. It’s like watching two different sports with these teams. While both rushed for 200 yards, the Lions also got 255 passing yards out of Jared Goff with three more touchdown passes.

Justin Fields finished 7-of-21 for 75 yards while taking seven sacks for 45 yards. Sure, he rushed for 132 yards, but it led to 10 points when you only put up 30 net passing yards on 28 passing plays.

The Bears are the first NFL team to complete no more than 7 passes while allowing 40 points in a game since Jeff Fisher’s 2009 Titans lost 59-0 in New England. That was a snow game. This was in a dome against the No. 32 scoring and yardage defense.

But now it looks like the Bears can finish with the No. 32 scoring defense.

Jaguars at Texans: Meaningless Game Is Houston’s Worst of the Year

Welp, my worst pick of the week was thinking the Texans had some secret sauce against Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars after nine straight wins, including 3-0 in the Lawrence era.

As it turns out, Lawrence just needed a 62-yard Travis Etienne touchdown run (only play of drive) and a fumble return touchdown to score more than enough points to beat the lowly Texans.

Houston’s 31-3 loss is by far its worst of the season, surpassing the 18-point loss to the Raiders that happened after Houston blew a fourth-quarter lead.

But it did not matter what Jacksonville did in this one. It’s all about Week 18 against Tennessee for the AFC South title.

Cardinals at Falcons: Another One for Kliff to Thank the Players for Losing Close

Good luck to the Hard Knocks crew in trying to hype up the David Blough vs. Desmond Ridder battle in Week 17. It was actually not that poorly played of an NFL game with both offenses hitting 20 first downs, only one turnover on an aborted snap, and it was played in a tight, one-score window for 60 minutes with three lead changes in the last 10 minutes.

It’s just hard getting people to care about such a game at this point of the season given the low stakes. After the Cardinals took the lead on a 57-yard field goal from Matt Prater, rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was able to lead the first game-winning drive of his career. Drake London didn’t fumble away a Ridder completion for a change, and the Falcons did a textbook job of milking the clock and getting as deep as possible for Younghoe Koo’s 21-yard field goal to win the game 20-19 with no time left.

It was like one of those close 2021 Atlanta wins when Ryan would use up the game clock for a field goal, denying the defense the chance to blow the lead again. The best way to do it, of course.

Next Week

  • Next week’s season finale? Let me just take in Bills-Bengals first.

NFL Week 16 Predictions: Oh But It’s Cold Outside Edition

Since 2013, the NFL has had one game with a total under 36 points. Today, there will be three, including a game in Cleveland that is just 32.5 points.

It might be an unpopular opinion, but I will continue saying it until the end of time. Any new stadium proposed for NFL use must have at least a retractable roof option. You can play the 25 degree game with flurries if you want, but when it gets to extreme weather like this, it’s a safety hazard for thousands of fans, and it’s going to have an impact on the quality of play. Not that anyone gives a shit about Saints-Browns at this point, but imagine if Bills-Bengals next week was played with a wind chill of minus-30. Not ideal.

Just a minute to share a couple links and predictions as I need to get some bets in before the 1 PM games start.

NFL Week 16 Predictions

Classic no-show by the Jets offense on Thursday.

We’ll see if the Raiders stun Pittsburgh again, but I really love the picks of a Pittsburgh win, Najee Harris TD, and Najee over 58.5 yards or whatever the final number ends up being. What better way to honor Franco (RIP) after his shocking passing than with Harris having a great game?

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 14

If Baker Mayfield can put together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives 48 hours after joining a wounded roster, what’s holding the rest of the league back? The only fourth-quarter lead change on Sunday involved the 1-win Texans blowing a late lead to the 17.5-point favored Cowboys.

It was one of the least dramatic days of NFL action we have seen in some time. The seven comeback opportunities (six on Sunday) are tied for the fewest in a week this season. But some of the opportunities weren’t even that good with teams like the Ravens and Panthers just running the clock down on the Steelers and Seahawks after drives earlier in the quarter failed.

Beyond that lack of fourth-quarter drama, most of the best teams won again (Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bengals, 49ers, Ravens).  

A strong contender for worst week of the season so far. Hard to believe there are only four left in this regular season, and the next two weeks will split up the action with Saturday triple-headers.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Chargers: The Uncomfortable Justin Herbert Conversation

I was able to write the other 10 recaps during Sunday Night Football, and after taking a break to watch The White Lotus S2 finale, I’m still not sure what the hell was going on in Los Angeles tonight.

It was a game without a turnover, yet one of the pivotal plays was a fumble at midfield that just so happened to be picked up by Tyreek Hill for a 57-yard touchdown return.

Tua Tagovailoa went from being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league this year to staring down a start that had him 3-for-17 for 25 yards more than halfway through the third quarter. Then he found Hill down the sideline and 60 yards later it was a 17-14 game.

So, it felt like there was some Chargering in store for us, but 43 yards away from the lead in the fourth quarter, Tua threw his Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI pass into the dead sea way down the field with no one in sight. He was slapped with an intentional grounding penalty, which brought up third-and-19 to kill that drive.

The Chargers went on another long drive with Herbert throwing darts that ended short of the end zone, but at least this one still put a field goal on the board despite a scary fumble at the 6-yard line with just over four minutes left. The Chargers were able to recover and saved the field goal for a crucial 23-14 lead.

Miami did not have the greatest of response drives, but the Dolphins were able to convert a 55-yard field goal to keep the game alive with 1:10 left. Hope finally ran out after the onside kick failed, but not before a nice bounce that at least made it dramatic. But the Chargers recovered, and it was over at 23-17.

Herbert is now 9-0 when the Chargers allow fewer than 20 points. I think the main takeaway from that stat is that they’ve only held nine of his first 45 opponents under 20 points.

There is still enough season left for the Chargers (7-6) to be that 11-win team many of us thought they should be this year. It will take more efforts like this, though it’s not like the Chargers were on top of their game here. They gave up two big touchdowns to Hill and somehow turned 39 completions from Herbert to 23 points. Watching a quarterback throw the ball 51 times in a game where he never trailed and his team allowed 17 points is weird. That’s Brady stuff.

But they looked better than Miami, who got a 10-of-28 for 145 yards game out of Tua. Nearly half his yards came on that one pass to Hill. Is there an injury throwing Tua off his game the last two weeks? Something is off.

All I can safely conclude is that these two teams are in a tier below the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the AFC.

Texans at Cowboys: Texas-Sized Upset Narrowly Avoided

Well, that was a hell of a lot closer than it should have been. The Cowboys were a 17.5-point favorite at home against a Houston team that was 1-10-1 and was alternating Davis Mills with Jeff Driskel at quarterback.

Had Dallas lost, you’d have to go back to 1977 to find a bigger upset by point spread when the Patriots lost 24-14 to Buffalo as an 18-point favorite. The last 17.5-point favorite to lose in the NFL was the 2020 Rams against the Jets. The 2019 Patriots also did it in Week 17 at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins in a game that cost them a first-round bye.

This would have been more embarrassing given the record of the Texans, their quarterback situation, and just how hot the offense has been for Dallas.

But the Texans have not been allowing many offensive touchdowns in recent weeks, and that showed up again here. Tony Pollard had a couple early scores, but he finished with just 42 rushing yards. In between their second and final touchdown, the Cowboys had two field goals, two interceptions, two punts, and Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed at the 1-yard line on the team’s only full third-quarter possession.

Dak Prescott has been a little sloppy with picks this season, and it looked like he threw one with 5:37 left that was going to bury the Cowboys who were already down 23-20. The Texans returned the pick to the 4-yard line and could go up two scores. But it was a bad run by Rex Burkhead that lost 2 yards on third-and-goal at the 1 that put the Texans in trouble.

If you’re going to do this Driskel QB runs thing, why not use him on third-and-1? I agree 100% with Houston going for the fourth down even after losing two yards, but it ended up being another bad call with Driskel looking confused on the designed run. The Cowboys stuffed him, and Prescott had his shot at redemption from 98 yards away with 3:20 left.

Prescott had 15 game-winning drives in his first three seasons (2016-18), but we have seen very little of this from Dallas in the last four seasons when he has just four game-winning drives (including this one).

In fact, this game was the first time all year the Cowboys had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. They were down too many points in the fourth against the Buccaneers (lost 19-3) and Eagles (lost 26-17) for those games to qualify. They were technically never down in the fourth quarter or overtime when they blew a 28-14 lead in Green Bay and lost 31-28 in overtime. This was the first one all year, and Dak made sure it was a success with his arms and legs.

Michael Gallup looked like he had a 2-yard touchdown catch, but a good hit when he landed dislodged the ball and made the play incomplete. The Cowboys went to old reliable on third down in Elliott, and he was able to cash it in this time for the go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds left. Dallas finally led 27-23.

Mills got the ball out to midfield, but his deep shot was intercepted in the end zone to end the game. Mills is a better quarterback for Houston than Kyle Allen, but it was still a surprise it was this tight.

Many of us thought the Eagles were disappointing in how they played in Houston when they won 29-17 on a Thursday night. But this? I think this game gives me the validity I need when I say the Cowboys are going to lose in Tampa on Wild Card Weekend in the 5-4 matchup in the NFC. I hope they prove me wrong, and a win is a win, but this was frighteningly too close to a loss for me.

Eagles at Giants: Philly Increases the Gap in Best Division

Welp, so much for the Giants forcing Jalen Hurts into a bad game like they did last year in a 13-7 upset at MetLife. The versatile Eagles passed for 156 yards in the first half and rushed for 192 yards in the second half in a 48-22 rout of the Giants.

The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three drives, effectively winning the game at 21-0. The Giants took seven sacks and only managed a garbage-time touchdown in the last minute when trailing 48-14.

Not surprisingly, once the schedule changed for the Giants to where they couldn’t win close games against mostly bad teams, the wins have dried up. As for the Eagles, I’m not sure what more you can say about this team. They are more balanced between offense and defense and the run and pass as any team in the NFL right now. Their stars have mostly been healthy. They were slipping a bit against Washington and Indy, but the offense has been money the last three weeks.

I guess we’re just waiting for that Christmas Eve game in Dallas to see if this team shows any cracks. It won’t happen in Chicago next week.

Buccaneers at 49ers: 35-Oh You Don’t Deserve a Home Playoff Game

Now if only Kyle Shanahan had this kind of knockout punch for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI with Atlanta…

The 49ers were starting rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for the first time, but he looked more than ready for the opportunity. Purdy finished 16-of-21 for 185 yards, two touchdown passes, and he ran for a short touchdown. He showed good poise and accuracy. He led the 49ers to at least 23 points for the second week in a row. Brady has led the Buccaneers to 23 points just once in 13 games this year.

It was another lousy game for the Buccaneers. It was also just the second time in Brady’s career (376 starts) where a team scored more than 31 points against him before he ever got on the board. The only game worse than the 35-0 start Sunday was that 38-0 run the 2020 Saints put on him in a prime-time game the Saints won 38-3.

This time, Tampa’s only score came on a deflected touchdown at the goal line. But there would be no collapse this time. Brady continued to throw almost each play in the fourth quarter down 35-7, and the drive stalled with another failed fourth down with 8:40 left. The teams just went through the motions after that.

The 49ers are still going to be a major threat with Purdy, especially if he can play like this with any consistency. But it was not a perfect day for the 49ers as Deebo Samuel was injured in the first half and carted off. Initial reports are optimistic that it won’t be a season-ending knee injury, but we saw how that goes with the Von Miller injury on Thanksgiving.

The 49ers are still a force with an offense led by CMC, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, but Samuel is the edge they need when they play a team like the Eagles or Cowboys in the playoffs. Hopefully his season isn’t over, but the cart is rarely good news.

But at least this game gave me some confidence that should these teams meet again in the playoffs, the 49ers should win barring a collapse from Purdy with turnovers. This Tampa team stinks, and if it wasn’t for the incompetence of the division and the way the Rams and Saints blew those late leads, this team would be 4-9 at best right now with Cincinnati up next.

In fact, this game just makes me more pissed off about what the Saints did Monday night, because this division should be a four-way tie at 5-8 right now. Tampa would probably still win it in that scenario, but it’s blasphemous that any of these teams get a home playoff game.

Chiefs at Broncos: Shaky Chiefs Win 14th Straight Against Broncos

It is a shame Russell Wilson had a concussion in the fourth quarter, because this first meeting with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs as a member of the Broncos was in an odd way his best game this season.

It was looking like the lowest point yet when the Chiefs took a 27-0 lead after a great defensive play on a pick-six put the Chiefs up big. But Mahomes got a little careless on a few picks up big, Jerry Jeudy went nuclear on the field and turned his anger into three touchdown catches, and the Broncos were right back in this game in a hurry after scoring a season-high 28 points.

But it was a fourth-quarter scramble where Wilson picked up 14 yards on a third-and-11 that he hurt himself. He banged his head on the ground and the bump was very visible. He also looked like he had no idea where he was on the ground. It was a scary moment, but he was able to walk off the field. Brett Rypien came in and fired the third touchdown of the day to Jeudy on a fourth down to make it 34-28 with tons of time (10:49) left.

These Chiefs rarely make it easy anymore. The teams exchanged some three-and-outs, then Mahomes threw his third interception of the game. When it looked like Rypien had his shot at the go-ahead drive, he was hit in motion and the pop-up was picked off with 4:21 left.

Mahomes had a key third-and-11 conversion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 20 yards, then Isiah Pacheco iced the game with an angry 10-yard run.

The Chiefs escaped Mile High with a 34-28 win, eliminating the Broncos from the playoffs and handing them a 14th straight loss in this rivalry.

Despite the highlight-worthy touchdown toss to Jerick McKinnon early in the game, Mahomes likely did himself no favors for the MVP race. But he did throw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. All three times in his career when he’s had three picks, he’s also had at least 350 yards and multiple touchdown passes. The Chiefs have also scored at least 30 points in all those games.

Jets at Bills: Defense Frustrates Allen Again, But Familiar Story on Offense

We should probably give the Jets some credit for their defense this year after holding the Bills at home to 20 points, 2-of-13 on third down, and just 232 yards of offense. The Bills already had a season-low 317 yards in the first meeting with the Jets, but this was worse in some wintry conditions with rain/snow coming down.

This game was scoreless late into the first half until the Bills got the Jets to jump offsides on a fourth-and-1. That led to an incredible 24-yard touchdown catch by Dawson Knox.

Mike White took some big hits in this game and left at one point in the third quarter. Joe Flacco came in and coughed up the ball on a strip-sack. The Bills turned that into a field goal and 17-7 lead. The next Flacco drive was a three-and-out that the Bills also turned into good field position and another field goal (20-7).

White returned, and after the punt team got a safety by blocking a Buffalo punt, it was Michael Carter’s turn to screw things up with a fumble inside the Buffalo 25 with 5:34 left. White, who has passed for over 250 yards in every start he’s finished, eventually got the Jets on the board with a field goal to make it 20-12 with 1:18 left.

The Bills went three-and-out after a brazen pass attempt on first down fell incomplete, saving the Jets a timeout.  But by the time White finally got a comeback opportunity, he was down 20-12 with 46 seconds and 79 yards to go and one timeout.

He threw four straight incompletions with his fourth-down pass batted down at the line to end the game. The Bills hung on, but it was far from pretty.

Ravens at Steelers: Son of a Mitch

You just had to expect the Steelers would turn the ball over in this game. They weren’t going to be the 10th offense in the Super Bowl era to go five straight games without a giveaway. That’s some Alex Smith type stuff there (three of the nine teams had Smith at quarterback).

But who imagined Kenny Pickett would leave early after another concussion, and Mitch Trubisky would throw three awful picks, including two in scoring territory? Those plays were the game as the Ravens didn’t do a lot in the passing game with Tyler Huntley starting, getting injured, and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown having to finish the game.

But the Ravens ran 42 times for 215 yards and the Steelers could rarely stop it. After the Ravens blocked a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to hold on to a 13-7 lead, they pounded ahead for their own field goal, and you know Justin Tucker was good with 3:19 left to make it 16-7. J.K. Dobbins was a factor in his return with 120 yards on 15 carries.

Trubisky was 22-of-30 for 276 yards, but those three picks were killers. While he did lead a late touchdown drive to give the team a chance at 16-14 with 2:30 left, the defense was unable to get the ball back. Gus Edwards plowed ahead on three straight runs for the game-clinching first down.

In the seven games where Huntley has at least 20 action plays, the Ravens are now 3-4, but the shocking part is the seven games have been decided by a total of 13 points. It’s always super close, which can be said for most Steelers-Ravens games too. But that’s why you can’t piss away three possessions with turnovers like Trubisky did.

Would Pickett have been better in the game? I’m not so sure he has been aggressive enough lately to hit some of the big throws Trubisky did in this game to the wide receivers. But obviously the mistakes were too much to overcome.

Vikings at Lions: The Close Game Win Streak Still Lives

As someone who does not like the NFL’s new playoff format, the 2022 Vikings may be the first team to make me glad the No. 2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye. If the Vikings even hang onto that seed, the fact is they are the first 10-3 team in NFL history to have a negative scoring differential. They are -1 now after a 34-23 loss in Detroit where the Vikings were an underdog despite having five more wins on the season than the Lions.

On the plus side, the close game winning streak is still alive at nine games. This game did not have an official 4QC opportunity. The Vikings were down 21-13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Lions had the ball and extended the lead to 28-13 with another touchdown on a day where Jared Goff (330 yards and three touchdowns) was hot.

Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards and didn’t get any help from Dalvin Cook, who was held to 23 yards on 15 carries and had a big fumble in the red zone.

Justin Jefferson had a career-low 14 yards against the Lions earlier this season. He went almost 200 yards beyond that with a career-high 213 this time, but that slow start by the Vikings never kept them close enough to steal another win.

Even after Minnesota scored a late touchdown to cut it to 31-23 with 2:50 left, the Lions converted a third-and-7 with a neat pass to Penei Sewell, an offensive lineman. That led to another field goal and the 34-23 lead that made sure this would finish as a two-score differential and that Cousins would never have the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.

So, the Lions by 1-13 points proved to be a great pick, but we’re technically still waiting to see the Vikings lose a 4QC/GWD opportunity and/or blow a 4Q lead this year. But the Lions are playing well right now with only a close loss to Buffalo since the start of November.

Browns at Bengals: Burrow Gets His Cleveland Win as Predator Sequel Flops

Joe Burrow finally has his first win against the Cleveland Browns in his fifth try, and Kevin Stefanski has his first loss against Cincinnati in his sixth meeting with the in-state rival. We can stop talking about the Browns having any playoff hopes this year. They should have kept starting the quarterback who doesn’t need supervision when he gets a massage.

The secret sauce to Cleveland’s flawless record against Burrow was getting big plays out of the quarterbacks even when those quarterbacks were Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. In those four games, the Browns averaged 36.3 points and 10.8 yards per pass attempt.

On Sunday, the Browns scored 10 points on 11 drives. The offense only had one 25-yard play, and that was a 28-yard completion in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with a failed fourth down.

Nick Chubb was held to 34 yards on 14 carries, the first time he was under 100 yards against Burrow’s defense.

Burrow was not at his best with 239 yards, but he only took one sack this time, and the Bengals lost Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to injury during the game. Ja’Marr Chase was great with 119 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals also hit a 45-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker to Trenton Irwin.

The Bengals are 9-4 and keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North. The Browns are 5-8 and will face the Ravens on Saturday. It was a good win for the Bengals to get over this annoying Cleveland hump.

Panthers at Seahawks: Second Episode of “Let Geno Cook” Bombs

Regardless of record, some opponents are just bad matchups. I picked Carolina ATS because I knew the Seahawks were at a big disadvantage in the ground game. The Panthers like to pound it with D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, and the Seattle run defense has been bad for most of the year. Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas were out for Seattle, leaving the offense very limited at running back.

Geno Smith was going to have to carry the offense for the second week in a row, and despite finishing with 264 yards and three touchdowns, he also had some turnovers. But despite trailing 17-0 early, this was still a 20-17 game going into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had the ball but unlike last week when Geno worked some rare (for him) late-game magic against the Rams, he was buried on a third-and-10 sack.

The Panthers kept the ball on the ground instead of going to the air with Sam Darnold like they mistakenly did on a goal-to-go sequence that failed in the third quarter. The end result was a touchdown and 27-17 lead. Another three-and-out by Seattle, another time-killing drive with the run by Carolina, and this one was all but over at 30-17 with 1:56 left. The Panthers were a bit lazy on defense with the 13-point lead, the most dangerous lead in football this month, but Geno’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin left only 24 seconds to recover an onside kick and set up a Hail Mary.

Onside kicks are now 3-for-40 this season after Carolina recovered to end the game at 30-24. The Panthers had 46 runs for 223 yards while Sam Darnold only had to throw 24 passes. That’s their formula. The Seahawks had 11 handoffs for 26 yards. They’ll be better when Walker comes back, but with the 49ers up next on a short week, the playoffs might be slipping away for Seattle.

Jaguars at Titans: Remember When the Titans Were Good?

Firing your GM on the first Tuesday in December can never be a good thing, but the Titans have lost the plot to this season with a third-straight loss. We thought the Eagles lighting them up for 35 points last week was just a result of the Eagles playing well and A.J. Brown making sure to embarrass their ass. But this was Trevor Lawrence, with almost no running game to speak of (22 carries for 53 yards), just tearing the defense apart with 368 yards and three touchdowns. You could argue he’s had his two best games in the last three weeks between this and the Baltimore comeback.

The turning point came at the two-minute warning in the first half. The Titans were up 14-13 and Derrick Henry caught a pass near the red zone. But he fumbled and the Jaguars turned that into a 78-yard touchdown drive. They took a 20-14 lead into the half and never looked back. The Jaguars were up 36-14 in the fourth quarter after Henry lost a second fumble. After one more touchdown, the best Tennessee could do was turn it over on downs while trailing 36-22.

The Titans probably are not in danger of blowing this division yet, but they are looking like an easy playoff win for a team like the Dolphins or Ravens/Bengals runner-up right now.

Next Week

  • All for seeing more Brock Purdy on Thursday night in Seattle. Big chance to all but put away the NFC West.
  • I was hoping to catch up on some TV this Saturday, but the NFL is giving us a triple-header that is less than exciting. Dolphins-Bills at night is the highlight.
  • Not looking forward to Steelers-Panthers one bit.
  • You know it’s a bad Sunday slate when the Giants-Commanders rematch is probably the highlight of the day.
  • Maybe Joe Burrow can definitively pull the horseshoe out of Tom Brady’s ass and assume the mantle of the LOAT for the next two decades.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 13

I knew Sunday was going to be a pivotal one in the NFL, but no one could expect so many quarterback injuries. The 49ers got the worst of it with Jimmy Garoppolo’s broken foot, but we could be seeing the beginning of the end for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens this year, opening the door for the Bengals to take the division and possibly the No. 1 seed.

The Chiefs fell. The Dolphins fell. Anyone who loved the chalky Super Bowl of Bills-Eagles, which looked so good for the first few months, had a great weekend as that looks as likely as ever.

But the season can turn in a snap. The 49ers found that out the hard way on Sunday.

It was a day with nine comeback opportunities in total.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Bengals: Three for Three by Three

Imagine losing to the same team by three points three times in the same calendar year, and they’re not even in your division. The only way it could happen is if you met in January, rematched in the playoffs, then met again the following season as the Chiefs and Bengals have done.

The Chiefs already have their hands full with Josh Allen and the Bills. How do we expect them to get back to a Super Bowl if they can’t beat Joe Burrow and the Bengals too? There’s really not a path in the AFC playoffs where they can avoid both.

The Bills and Bengals are both young, cocky teams who only gain more confidence each time they knock off the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Chiefs these days go as Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce go. On Sunday, Kelce had a poor game. Who is going to step up to help him out? Not this guy. The Chiefs do a lot of talking, but it’s a flawed roster with a lot of players trying to piggyback off the success of the best quarterback and tight end in the league.

On a day when CBS’ Jim Nantz and Tony Romo decided to have an ill-timed dynasty discussion about the Chiefs in the first quarter, the Bengals showed once again why that talk is neither valid nor necessary in 2022.

The Chiefs came into Week 13 with a defense ranked No. 23 in points per drive allowed. After a 27-24 final in which each offense only had eight possessions, that number is only going to get worse. This is not a championship-caliber defense, and the Bengals were the latest talented offense to expose it with no turnovers, only one sack surrendered, and 7-of-11 on third down.

The Bengals even helped the Chiefs out with an awful play call on fourth-and-1 before halftime and Tyler Boyd dropped a wide-open touchdown in the third quarter, leading the Bengals to settle for a field goal.

In a game with so few possessions, every mistake would be magnified. Kansas City’s fourth drive lasted just 49 seconds before halftime as the Chiefs simply ran the ball twice deep in their own end. When you only let Mahomes touch the ball seven times, and you end two of those drives with a fumble and missed field goal, your chances of winning are slim to none with this defense.

But the Chiefs did take a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter after Mahomes barely broke the plane by going vertical on a fourth-and-3 run for a touchdown. They had a chance to build on a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but after having such a quiet game, Kelce tried to get extra yards in traffic, and the Bengals stripped him before he was down for a huge fumble at midfield.

The Bengals turned that into the go-ahead touchdown and 27-24 lead. The Chiefs needed an answer, but pressure short-circuited the drive with Mahomes losing 4 yards on a third-down sack, the second third-down sack in the game. I did not notice the Bengals using a lot of the three-man rush from the second half of the AFC title game, but it did pop up on one third down when Mahomes held the ball forever and a 34-yard gain was wiped out by multiple linemen being illegally down the field. If they frustrated him in this game, it was usually timely on a couple third downs, which is sometimes all you need in a game with eight possessions.

Harrison Butker had a tough job on his hands, and his 55-yard field goal was wide right with 3:19 left. The Chiefs had four clock stoppages left, but do you trust this defense? The Bengals didn’t even play it that great with Ja’Marr Chase, who caught almost everything in his return game for 97 yards, going out of bounds twice, Burrow taking a bad sack, and the Bengals needing to overcome a third-and-11 at the two-minute warning.

But on that third-and-11, the Chiefs seemed to slow up at Burrow’s right side on a quick rush, and he got the pass off on time and accurately to Tee Higgins for 14 yards and the conversion. Game over. Another 27-24 final but done dramatically different from the AFC Championship Game, which had 21 possessions from the two teams.

Chase and Valdes-Scantling each had two 20-yard plays, and they were the only such plays in the game. Kelce provided the obligatory Chiefs fumble this week, and it was a costly one.

With the remaining schedule, the Chiefs could still finish 14-3 and get the No. 1 seed if the Bills slip up once. Two games against Denver and one with Houston could get the defense up to middle of the road in scoring.

But when push comes to shove against the best of the best in the AFC, it doesn’t feel like these teams have to prove they can beat the Chiefs anymore. Since losing their last Super Bowl appearance, the Chiefs are 1-6 against the Bills, Bengals, and Ravens.

The next time a booth wants to do a dynasty discussion, I hope they start on that note, but I have my doubts. Just as I’m going to have my doubts the next time the Chiefs go into a big game against the Bills or Bengals.

Dolphins at 49ers: Great Defense Beats Great Passing Offense Again

This was another one of the day’s letdowns as it could have been a shootout between Tua Tagovailoa and Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, the Dolphins got the quick strike with a 75-yard touchdown on the opening play before doing little on offense the rest of the way. The 49ers got a field goal, but Garoppolo broke his foot on a sack on that opening drive, so his season is over too.

Enter Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant from this year’s draft. He was more than respectable given his lack of experience as he threw the first two touchdowns of his career. The 49ers were not afraid to let him throw 37 times too. He was able to convert some third downs while the Dolphins were 0-for-7 on third down.

I went from skeptical to impressed by Tua this week, but it seems like any time I write something nice about a player I usually don’t praise, he proves in the very next game why I’ve been right to cover him the way I have. His accuracy was bad in this game, because the Dolphins were getting their receivers open against this vaunted defense. Jaylen Waddle was also injured and only caught one ball, which didn’t help matters. The Dolphins also conceded they wouldn’t be able to run on the top run defense, so the running backs only had 8 carries for 33 yards.

Tua was going to have to be sharp in this one, and he just wasn’t. But after one quick strike to Tyreek Hill for a 45-yard touchdown, this was just a 23-17 game with most of the fourth quarter left. The 49ers’ second-half shutout streak ended at four games.

But when Tagovailoa got the ball back, he just had to convert a fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 36 with just over six minutes left. Somehow, the officials ruled Mike Gesicki made a 3-yard catch when it was pretty clear he never had control of it. The 49ers challenged a completion for the second time on this drive, and for the second time it was correctly overturned. You never see two challenges work on the same drive for the same play type.

The Dolphins fell apart after that failed conversion. Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey ripped off big runs and that led to a field goal that was all but clinching with 2:03 left to make it 26-17. Nick Bosa buried Tua in motion on a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown and could have seriously injured the quarterback. That’s how the 49ers turned a game where they were 36 yards away from trailing in the final minutes to a 16-point knockout.

But it is a real bummer to have a Super Bowl-ready roster and to lose two starting quarterbacks well after the trade deadline has passed. No rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl, and I’m not sure Purdy has the right stuff to break that glass ceiling. The team is reportedly adding Josh Johnson, but he has played for more NFL teams (14) than he has touchdown passes (13).

If Nick Mullens can throw for a historic number of yards under Kyle Shanahan, then maybe they can figure things out with Purdy. He’ll have the best defense and arguably the best set of skill players at his disposal. But the chances of going on the road in the playoffs and winning somewhere like Philadelphia? Just dwindled. Even the division isn’t safe anymore after the Seahawks won in LA.

It sucks because I really wanted to see this Garoppolo situation through this year and what they would do if he was in a third NFC Championship Game and second Super Bowl in four seasons. Now it’s a the third-string rookie quarterback.

Colts at Cowboys: 50 Burger on SNF?

Hard to believe the Colts were a failed two-point conversion away from taking a 21-21 tie into the fourth quarter. Still, at 21-19, you could not have imagined a 33-0 run by Dallas in the fourth quarter for a 54-19 win (first of its kind). This is only the fifth time in NFL history a team won a quarter with a shutout of at least 33 points:

The Colts were the only team in the NFL this season that had not allowed more than 27 points in any game. The Cowboys doubled them up on that, and they had 33 in one quarter.

It was as if the competitive game no one expected ran its course, then the fourth quarter was an overcorrection to the mismatch this looked like on paper with Dallas’ offense being too much for Indy, and Dallas’ pass rush being too much for Matt Ryan and the line.

The Colts turned the ball over on four consecutive drives in the fourth quarter to fuel that 33-0 run, including a Mo Alie-Cox fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

The Cowboys now have the two-highest scoring games this season at 54 and 49 points. They look Super Bowl ready when they do this stuff, but the more you look at the schedule, the more likely it appears they are going to start their playoff run as the No. 5 seed in Tampa Bay, the NFC South winner. That’s the defense that made Dak Prescott look so bad in Week 1 that this figured to be a lost season for the Cowboys.

Some revenge would be sweet in that one, but you could see it going terribly wrong too in a low-scoring mess. But Dallas has plenty of time to get this machine ready for a playoff run. The news out of San Francisco is making it likely that Dallas is the best team outside of the Eagles in the NFC.

Jets at Vikings: Mike White Got That Feral Cat in Him

It was technically a wire-to-wire win for the Vikings, because they never trailed, but it was another close win in the end for Minnesota. The Jets outgained the Vikings by 199 yards, but 1 yard in particular is going to haunt the team from coming up short in the latest chapter of the Mike White story.

Down 27-15 in the fourth quarter, White scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth down with 6:45 left, leaving plenty of time to complete the comeback. But after getting to the 1-yard line again with a second down, the Jets ended up inexplicably throwing two more passes and turning it over on downs after Braxton Berrios failed to hang on to White’s fourth-down pass in the end zone.

Didn’t anyone watch TCU this weekend, or the previous drive in this game for that matter? Run the damn quarterback at the goal line. It’s a cheat code, but the Jets didn’t do it, and they paid for it.

They still got the ball back with plenty of time (1:19 to drive 43 yards) to complete the comeback, but the drive stalled with White throwing four straight incompletions from the Minnesota 19, including a pick on fourth down that he just forced out.

White passed for 369 yards, but it took 57 attempts this week. It was a bit miraculous for the Jets to be so close after going 3-for-16 on third down, but they just needed a better series of calls at the goal line.

Titans at Eagles: Great Day for Philly

Did any team have a better day than the Eagles? They scored five touchdowns against a Tennessee team that only allowed more than 22 points in one game this season. They shut down Derrick Henry (11 carries for 30 yards), which has been the case for nearly a month now for the Titans. Jalen Hurts had one of his finest games ever with 380 yards and three touchdown passes.

The Eagles are just the third team in NFL history to rush for 350 yards and pass for 350 yards in consecutive games (in either order according to Elias). The A.J. Brown revenge game was very successful with 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Blasting the Titans with Ryan Tannehill 35-10 is an impressive win. The Eagles (11-1) are on the road the next three weeks and we’ll see how those division games go, but this looks like a very complete team. Dallas might be the only real contender in Philadelphia’s path to the Super Bowl now that Garoppolo is done in San Francisco.

Commanders at Giants: Ties Are for Losers

A tie between division rivals who are battling for the playoffs? Well, that’s as annoying as it gets. But the Giants really should have won this one. It was an awful time to take a taunting penalty when the Giants could have kicked a field goal to take a 23-13 lead in the final minutes. Instead they punted.

The defense collapsed on the ensuing drive. I have to say I would have punted on fourth-and-4 at my 27 with 2:47 left if I was Washington. You don’t convert there, and the game is all but over, but Ron Rivera rolled the dice and Taylor Heinicke extended the play to make it happen for a 20-yard gain. Three plays later, Washington was in the end zone to tie it.

The last seven drives never really materialized for either team. Maybe the Giants should have gone for a fourth-and-3 at the Washington 45 with 1:42 left in overtime, but I guess they saw value in playing for the tie. When they got the ball back with 28 seconds left, Daniel Jones was able to set up Graham Gano for a 58-yard field goal as the final play. Tough kick but he’s made longer.

The field goal was short, and it’s just another game like most overtime ties where a game-winning field goal was missed.

But with the Giants (7-4-1) and Commanders (7-5-1) in a heated playoff race, a tie just feels extra wrong in this scenario. I’m going to say advantage Commanders though. They didn’t take the loss after trailing 20-13 late, they get a bye week now, and they get the rematch at home in two weeks.

The Giants may still ultimately get in the playoffs, but they could be kicking themselves for not closing this one out properly. Unlike those pesky Vikings, the Giants seem to have used up their magic beans in close games before Halloween.

Seahawks at Rams: Bobby Wagner Revenge Game Spoiled by Rare Geno Comeback

Linebacker Bobby Wagner was in Beast Mode against his former team with two sacks, three tackles for loss, and an interception that defied logic late in the third quarter. I sure thought there was evidence of the receiver being down before Wagner ripped the ball away. This would have been a more controversial call if the Rams weren’t suffering the worst Super Bowl title defense in NFL history.

 But the Rams turned that into a field goal, the Seahawks matched, then the Rams took a surprising 23-20 lead late after backup John Wolford led a 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 6-yard run by Cam Akers.

Geno Smith was having a fine game, but he was 3-15 in his career at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, one of the worst records all time. But on this day without any Aaron Donald to worry about, Geno was able to get it done with his receivers having big days. DK Metcalf caught the 8-yard laser for the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left to put Seattle back on top at 27-23.

Wolford chucked up an ugly pick out of desperation on fourth-and-20 to end the game. The Rams are 3-9 and moving in on the worst record ever for a defending champ.

The Seahawks (7-5) may have saved their season and kept hope alive for winning the NFC West, especially after the Garoppolo news in San Francisco. The teams will meet again in Week 15 on a Thursday in Seattle with the Seahawks looking for a split.

Just the fourth 4QC win of Smith’s career may go down as a big one for this season’s story.

Chargers at Raiders: Vegas’ Two-Headed Monster Impresses

You might see 27-20, Justin Herbert with 335 yards, and think another AFC West shootout. But that really was not the case. The Raiders played some great defense in this one as Derek Carr had a pick-six early, so the Vegas defense held Herbert to 13 points, sacked him five times, and forced a fumble from Austin Ekeler. It was a very fine performance on that side of the ball for the Raiders, which have been hard to come by this year.

These teams came in ranked 26th and 29th in points allowed in the same exact spots they ranked last season. But the Raiders got it done this week. On offense, you have to liked the simplified approach after sending Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to injured reserve after disappointing seasons. This offense is thriving with basically a two-headed monster of Davante Adams (177 yards and two touchdowns) and Josh Jacobs (144 yards and a touchdown). You know where the ball is going, yet these guys have rarely been stopped as the Raiders have won three in a row.

Not that there’s any consolation prize, but I think the Raiders (5-7) are the best team in the NFL with a losing record right now. This team would be right in that playoff mix without all the blown three-score leads.

As for the Chargers, I just wonder how hot that seat is going to get for Brandon Staley if this thing continues going south. The Chargers (6-6) are now the No. 9 seed with the Dolphins and Titans up next.

Broncos at Ravens: Déjà vu?

The quickest get-rich scheme in the NFL this year would have been to bet the house on the under hitting in every Denver game. You’d be 11-1 right now. The 2022 Broncos are the first team in NFL history to score between 9-23 points in their first 12 games. Only two teams in NFL history have had a longer streak at any point in a season or multiple seasons.

The latest embarrassment is a 10-9 loss to Baltimore with Lamar Jackson exiting early with a knee injury. The Broncos blew their fourth lead in the fourth quarter, but it’s hard to say an offense that scores 9 points deserves to win the game. Denver was 2-of-12 on third down.

Tyler Huntley replaced Jackson as he did last year, and he had a very amusing game: 27-of-32 for 187 yards, interception, 10 runs for 41 yards and the game-winning touchdown run with 28 seconds left. So many short plays, but he found a way to put together a 91-yard drive at the end. Of course, it would have been a four-and-out if Mark Andrews didn’t make a great effort on a fourth-and-1 direct snap from under center to convert at the Baltimore 18. Game over if that play fails with the Ravens down 9-3.

Still, it’s hard to feel good about the win for the Ravens with the offense continuing to underperform and losing Jackson. They also needed Brandon McManus to come up short on a 63-yard field goal to avoid another bad loss. The kick was straight enough. Just not deep enough.

Worse, is history repeating itself? The Ravens were 8-4 last year, then Jackson was injured early in the Week 14 game against Cleveland. John Harbaugh was calling it a day-to-day injury and acting like Jackson could be back the next game. He never played another down, the Ravens lost their last five games to finish 8-9, and the team missed the playoffs.

It could very well be Tyler Huntley in Pittsburgh next week against a team that is gaining confidence. Harbaugh is acting like Jackson did not have a serious injury, but here we go again in Baltimore.

Hurry-Up Finish

We’ll conclude with four games that really do not matter for the playoff races. It is December, so you can expect to start seeing a smaller word count on teams like the Texans, Bears, and Jaguars.

Browns at Texans: Allen vs. Predator Is a Flop

This game was fucking gross on multiple levels. The only way it would have been worse is if the Browns had a good record and were right in the playoff hunt, and they benched Jacoby Brissett for this.

I bet Brissett wouldn’t have thrown that horrible red-zone pick. I bet he would have led an offensive touchdown drive or two. I bet the offense would have fed Nick Chubb properly instead of trying to get their new predator at quarterback comfortable in the offense even though the running game would have destroyed Houston.

It’s a good thing the Texans started Kyle Allen, because the Browns were able to return two of his turnovers for touchdowns. The special teams also got the scoring going with a 76-yard punt return touchdown. Six points on 12 drives for Watson, and one of those field goals was a drive with no first downs. Brilliant stuff.

I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I think the contract Cleveland gave Deshaun Watson is disgusting. Make him earn his way back to big money like Philadelphia did with Michael Vick, someone who actually served his time and showed remorse for what he did. All the Browns did was empower Watson with one of the richest contracts in history, and he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

Watson finished 12-of-22 for 131 yards, his second-fewest yards in a start. He’ll get a pass for rust, which is valid. But he only has himself to blame for why this was his first start in the last two seasons.

Packers at Bears: He Still Owns Them

Aaron Rodgers is 25-4 in games he starts and finishes against the Bears. That now includes seven game-winning drives, matching the seven he has against the Lions for his most against an opponent. Fourteen of Rodgers’ 32 game-winning drives are against the Bears and Lions.

If there was a perfect game for the Bears to rough up Rodgers and send him packing with a losing record, it was this one with Green Bay at 4-8 and Rodgers leaving last week’s game with a rib injury.

But even after leading 16-3 in the first half, leading 19-10 to start the fourth quarter, getting 254 passing yards out of Justin Fields to go along with his usual rushing output (71 yards and a touchdown), it still wasn’t enough for Chicago. The Packers got their running game going, Rodgers came through late, the special teams blocked a 40-yard field goal, the defense intercepted Fields just outside of scoring range, and Christian Watson showed off his big-play ability with a 46-yard touchdown run at the two-minute warning.

The Bears are now tied with the 1950 Redskins for the second-longest losing streak in NFL history with at least 125 rushing yards in each game. That streak is at six games. The record is 11 games by the 1976-77 Bills.

Once again, the Packers beat the Bears 28-19, the only team they’ve been able to beat by more than three points in their last 15 games. If this is the last time they see Rodgers, they should be happy about that.

Fittingly, the win was Green Bay’s 787th in the regular season, surpassing the Bears for the most wins in NFL history. It is the first time the Bears have not held that record since 1921. Maybe they take that crown back soon enough if this is the end of the Rodgers era, but if the Chicago offense keeps closing games like it has this year, even the Jordan Love era might add on to this lead.

Steelers at Falcons: If We Can’t Cancel the NFC South, How About Benching Mariota?

Yes, I ended up watching the entire game. Pittsburgh’s offense once again looked competent with no turnovers, a productive ground game, and Kenny Pickett doing just enough for a win. Nothing spectacular but much better than where they were before the bye. Najee Harris really does look like a different player since the bye. Still not worth a first-round pick but doing his best to shed the T-Rich comparison.

But I think the Falcons need to bench Marcus Mariota after this one. He was getting a lot of open looks on play-action passes, Drake London was getting open, and Mariota’s accuracy was poor for much of the game. His pass protection mostly held up well too. He’s just not much of a passer and needs to be on a team with a No. 1 defense if they’re going to win games.

Mike Tomlin made a pretty wise decision late in the game to punt with a 19-16 lead instead of trying a 53-yard field goal to take the dreaded 6-point lead with just under a minute left. It helped that the punt was great and pinned Mariota at his own 2 from where he promptly ended the game with a pass intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers (5-7) have their first winning streak in 2022 and would win the NFC South this year if they were eligible to. Just need to beat Carolina to complete the division sweep.

Jaguars at Lions: Back to Square One for Jags

I thought Jacksonville being favored earlier in the week was a huge overreaction to Week 12. By game time, the Lions were a 1-point favorite, and they made quick work of Jacksonville in a 40-14 win. When Jared Goff is on, this offense is well built and fun to watch. Didn’t even think about the DJ Chark Revenge Game, but he had 98 yards to go along with Amon-Ra St. Brown’s two touchdowns.

The good news for Jacksonville is Trevor Lawrence avoided a season-ending injury after a nasty twist on a takedown. He ended up finishing the game after that. Lawrence has yet to miss a start from injury, but this one was a close call.

Next Week

  • Island games (LV-LAR, LAC-MIA, NE-ARI) look bad even though we know the Chargers will find some interesting way to lose SNF.
  • Of course Garoppolo breaks his foot right before the 49ers are going to face Tampa Bay…
  • It looks like division games will have to deliver to save this week (Jets-Bills, Bengals-Browns, Eagles-Giants).

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 11

Week 11 showed the value of flex scheduling in the NFL as the fifth round of Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert on Sunday night salvaged a day of bad football where we didn’t even learn that much:

  • The Patriots still own the Jets even if neither belongs anywhere near the postseason.
  • The Eagles and Bills can still win without bringing their A game, especially if they get to play the Browns and Colts.
  • The Broncos, Panthers, and Texans still can’t score points, and the Bears can’t score them when you need them on the last drive.
  • Kirk Cousins and the Vikings didn’t waste any time to make my claims that they are frauds look valid, losing 40-3 to Dallas.
  • Mahomes is still in his own tier of quarterbacks and the MVP race is likely over.

At least it was cool to see a kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown of great significance in the same time slot.

We had seven games with a comeback opportunity, though the Jets-Patriots game was so bad that it technically didn’t qualify as one in the sense that neither offense had the ball in the fourth quarter while trailing.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Chargers: The Best Division Rivalry Going

It really does not matter that the Chiefs are 4-1 in these Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert showdowns. Every game had a lead change in the fourth quarter or overtime, and no division rivalry since 2020 has been more exciting to watch than when these two go at it.

I thought the Week 15 matchup on a Thursday night was the best game of the 2021 regular season. Travis Kelce ended that one 34-28 in overtime. Kelce was at it again on Sunday night with three touchdowns, including the game winner with 31 seconds left in one of this year’s best games. The Chiefs in prime time have been must-see TV this year, and with the way Mahomes has played in these high-profile games, it is hard to see anyone else winning the MVP award now.

This one may have sealed it up as he excelled despite not having top wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. Kadarius Toney was supposed to be his new toy and he left this game with zero catches and another hamstring injury (story of his career).

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a huge disappointment with one 18-yard catch, but at least he picked the first play of the game-winning drive to have an impact. After a back-and-forth final quarter with the teams exchanging fumbles, it really didn’t seem like the Chiefs were going to pull it off this time after Herbert threw a touchdown to Josh Palmer with 1:46 left to take a 27-23 lead. Herbert converted a third-and-18 on the drive to Keenan Allen, who made up for his fumble with his best game of an injury-ravaged season.

But it felt like the depleted wide receiver corps was going to catch up to Mahomes in this spot. Kelce is great, but why wouldn’t the Chargers just double him and force these receivers like MVS and rookie Skyy Moore to step up? Remember, it was Moore who Mahomes tried throwing to against Buffalo on the game-ending interception in Week 6.

But Moore seized this opportunity and played his best game with five catches for 63 yards, and he didn’t fumble a punt.

Mahomes also used his legs well as he often does against the Chargers. He had two scrambles for 22 yards on the final drive. After his 16-yard run, he found Kelce left in single coverage again and the Hall of Famer strutted his way 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to take a 30-27 lead. The best duo in the game did it again to the Chargers.

There was enough time for the Chargers to answer with three timeouts, but Herbert seemed to draw inspiration from Mahomes’ runs on the GWD. But when he tried to run himself on a weird, almost QB draw look, the Chiefs read it well and pounced on him for a 5-yard loss that went down as a sack.

On the next play, Herbert just tried to force a throw and it was tipped and intercepted on the deflection to end the game. The Tony Romo is strong in this one as Herbert suffers another fourth-quarter interception in prime time in a game where he did do his job earlier.

But Mahomes just does a better job than anyone at the position. A lot of decent quarterbacks can lead one big touchdown drive, especially if given multiple attempts, but how often do you see someone do it multiple times after his defense squanders the lead?

This is already the fourth comeback win in Mahomes’ career where he had to lead multiple go-ahead touchdown drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (2019 Lions, 2020 Raiders, 2021 Bills in playoffs, and Sunday night in LA). Four times.

Do you know how many of Tom Brady’s 52 fourth-quarter comeback wins saw him lead multiple go-ahead touchdown drives? Try one, and it was against Mahomes in the 2018 AFC Championship Game after Mahomes twice put the Chiefs ahead in the fourth before losing 37-31 after the overtime coin flip.

That could have been a fifth time for Mahomes, and this doesn’t include last year’s OT win against the Chargers were Mahomes led two game-tying touchdown drives plus a game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

Even when the Chargers pressure him better than most, Mahomes always seems to find Kelce or an open receiver on third downs. The Chargers stopped Mahomes from scoring on four drives: one was the Jerick McKinnon fumble, and another was the end of the first half (14-second drive).

The Chargers (5-5) are in a tough spot for the playoffs and likely just lost the division again to the Chiefs (8-2), who should win it for a seventh year in a row, just the third team to do so. But once again, this Los Angeles team is so close to doing something great. The Chargers led in the fourth quarter in both games against the Chiefs this year. If they could ever find a way to stay healthy and hang on, then these standings could look very different right now if the Chargers were 7-3 and the Chiefs were 6-4.

But until the Chargers figure out how to close these games, they are going to play second fiddle to Mahomes and Kelce.

Join the club.

Cowboys at Vikings: Frauds, He Said

I spent a decent part of my week preparing why I think the 2022 Vikings are frauds, how Kirk Cousins was statistically having his worst season, and why I liked Dallas to end this streak of close wins. Minnesota could have been the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games by 1-to-8 points.

Well, the Vikings are still perfect in close games this year because they just got their asses handed to them 40-3 at home by Dallas.

This game was over before halftime with the Vikings faceplanting worse than usual against a top opponent. This was one of the top beatdowns of the season:

  • The Vikings had one play gain more than 15 yards (17-yard run by Dalvin Cook with 5 yards tacked on for defensive holding).
  • Dallas RB Tony Pollard was untouched on touchdown catches of 30 and 68 yards.
  • The Cowboys threw four incomplete passes (26-of-30) and allowed zero sacks.
  • Ezekiel Elliott only had 15 carries for 42 yards in his return game, but he still scored two touchdowns.
  • Kirk Cousins was sacked seven times as the offensive line was overwhelmed by Dallas’ tough front.
  • Cousins didn’t throw a pick, but he lost an early fumble and finished with 105 yards passing (not excluding the 49 lost on sacks).
  • Third downs: Dallas was 12-of-17 and Minnesota was 1-of-11.
  • Cowboys led 23-3 at halftime and won 40-3 with both teams pulling starters early.

If it wasn’t for the Buffalo meltdown last week, the Vikings would have ugly double-digit losses to the Eagles and Cowboys, and a bad loss to Buffalo where they were down 17 points. Otherwise, they would be 7-0 with a handful of close wins over some pretty weak teams they had to come back against in the fourth quarter.

In other words, a Minnesota season you could understand instead of the one we have where the Vikings are now 8-2 with a minus-2 scoring differential thanks to this game.

Yes, this is historic. The 2022 Vikings are the first 8-2 team with a negative scoring differential. There were a handful of 7-3 teams to do so, including the 2020 Browns who were 7-3 with a minus-23 differential.

We get to see this Minnesota team again on Thursday night against a Bill Belichick defense that just held the Jets to a field goal in 60 minutes. Sounds fun.

But watch out for these Cowboys. Using Pollard more can open up that offense in ways we’re not used to, maybe they’ll sign Odell Beckham soon enough to go with CeeDee Lamb, and that defense can get after it. The only thing missing is our trust that Mike McCarthy won’t screw it up in the playoffs. From the team that brought us the quarterback draw with no timeouts against the 49ers, that is still a big dilemma to have.

But what a performance on Sunday to make me not have to eat crow with my turkey and stuffing this week after putting down the Vikings.

Eagles at Colts: The Stench of Frank Reich Was Strong in This One

This game was supposed to be Frank Reich taking on his former assistant and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, but it turned out to be interim coach Jeff Saturday nearly pulling off a 2-0 start and handing the Eagles a losing streak.

Alas, it ended up being the kind of disappointing loss that fits in so well with the rest of the Reich era in Indy. The Colts blew a 13-3 lead in the fourth quarter, the kicker let them down again, the defense let them down late, and the offense couldn’t answer when all that was needed was a field goal. One that probably would have missed anyway, but at least the chance was there.

The Colts could have taken a 16-3 lead into the fourth quarter, but Chase McLaughlin was wide right on a 50-yard field goal with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Eagles had lost 43 games in a row when trailing by double digits to start the fourth quarter. The last win was in 2010 against the Giants in the DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown game. The Eagles had two wins (2012 Buccaneers and 2020 Giants) since then when trailing by double digits at any point in the fourth quarter, but this stat is based on the start of the fourth.

After the front-running Eagles finally scored a touchdown, Jonathan Taylor and A.J. Brown inexplicably traded fumbles. The Colts drove to the Philadelphia 5, but the overpaid offensive line again faltered, and Matt Ryan took a third-down sack, forcing another field goal attempt and 16-10 lead.

With 4:37 left, Jalen Hurts used his arm and legs to put together arguably the most significant drive of his career to this point. He finished it off with a scramble right up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left for a 17-16 lead.

Ryan only needed a field goal to win, and he has been solid with game-winning drives this season. But the drive stalled quickly with Brandon Graham forcing a big sack (no flag this week after the Taylor Heinicke cheapie on Monday night), and Ryan checked down on fourth-and-21 to end the game. Christ, Matt.

The Eagles escaped to move to 9-1, but they are looking might ordinary these days. I really would have liked to see Saturday pull out the win if only to continue tearing down the mythos and dumb conventional wisdom for how coaches are hired in this league. If someone with almost no experience can beat the team with the best record in the league, then what does that tell you about the job? Stop gatekeeping it from people who know the game but maybe aren’t in the right good old boy network.

Browns at Bills: Was Nick Chubb Wearing Snow Boots?

The Browns and Bills avoided a major blizzard with over 75 inches of snow by having the game moved to the comfy dome in Detroit. But if you thought the Bills would light it up indoors with Josh Allen trying to clean up his recent mistakes, you would have been wrong. The Bills actually approached this game as if it was a snow game as the usually limited running game piled up 86 yards each from Devin Singletary and rookie James Cook.

Those 172 yards almost matched what Allen (197) passed for in the game. Meanwhile, the Bills flexed their muscles on defense by holding Nick Chubb to 14 carries for 19 yards. Chubb had never been held to under 2.0 yards per carry on more than three carries in his career until Sunday.

But it was a mixed bag for the defense as a hole as Jacoby Brissett passed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, two touchdowns came after the Bills led 28-10, but they still required a shaky onside kick recovery in the final minute to end the game at 31-23. The Bills were also fortunate to recover a fumbled snap and block a 34-yard field goal in the third quarter.

The lack of passing had Stefon Diggs frustrated on the sideline, but he did manage to catch a short touchdown. Allen finished without an interception after a three-game streak with multiple picks.

It wasn’t the kind of performance that would make anyone who jumped off the Buffalo bandwagon hop back on, but it was a relatively low-stress win during a chaotic week for the area with the snow and the awful loss the Bills had a week ago to Minnesota.

Now we’ll see them right back in Detroit on Thursday for the early Thanksgiving game. Weird how that turned out, but you can also probably expect a better challenge from the Lions than what the Browns had here despite the final score.

Bengals at Steelers: So Much for Week 1

This rematch was like night and day from Week 1. Both offenses looked good this time, though the Bengals sustained their performance for the full game behind a big road performance from Joe Burrow (355 yards and four touchdowns) while the Steelers basically fell apart in the second half after their best 30 minutes of offense in a long time.

Nothing sums it up better than this: Pittsburgh trailed 27-23 on two fourth quarter drives that made it inside the Cincinnati 40, and the offense ended up punting on both possessions.

Meanwhile, the defense did create a few picks, including a great one by T.J. Watt, but the offense just didn’t make them count after putting up 20 points before halftime. Burrow, who was only sacked twice after seven times in the opener, also had too easy of a time throwing three touchdowns to backup running back Samaje Perine.

Kenny Pickett finished another game without an interception, but I’d like to see something better than two first downs on the first seven possessions out of halftime. That’s where the game was lost.

I had the stat last week about how Andy Dalton never scored more than 21 points in 17 starts (16 with Cincinnati) against Pittsburgh. The defense can still handle Dalton as last week showed, but someone of Burrow’s talent is a different story. If not for a blocked extra point or missed 29-yard field goal in overtime in Week 1, Burrow would have four straight wins over the Steelers with at least 23 points scored in each game. He already has as many wins as Dalton, who is 3-14 against Pittsburgh.

But the 37-30 final was not lost on me in Bengals-Steelers lore as it made me think of the time Ben Roethlisberger lost a 38-31 game at home to Carson Palmer and the 2005 Bengals, the last time it really felt like the Bengals had an unstoppable offense that could do real damage to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That was also the first time Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 30 points and lost.

This was the first time Pickett led his team to 30 points, and he can join a nice list of quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Peyton Manning to lose their first start when they score 30 points (regardless of venue). But that last touchdown had a smell of garbage time to it, or maybe it was just the fluke catch by Olszewski to put the ball at the 1-yard line after a defender tipped it.

Such is life with a young, unproven quarterback. The first half had me as encouraged as I’ve been all season with Pickett. The second half had me wondering what this team will do with a high draft pick.

But it was a big win for the Bengals (6-4), who need all the wins they can get with the games they have left.

Jets at Patriots: You Had One Job

I cannot believe I am saying this, but the Patriots deserved this win, and they did not cheat to get it. That was not a block in the back on the game-winning punt return touchdown with five seconds left. He contacted the Jets player at his shoulder. Clean play, and the latest game-winning punt return in a fourth quarter since Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson did it with no time left against the Giants in 2010.

New England’s 14th-straight win over the Jets was the hardest-earned yet, but it was deserving with the Patriots holding the Jets to 2 yards of offense after halftime. The Patriots never found the end zone on offense either in this 3-3 deadlock, but they should have had two more field goals if not for a bad wind day that caused havoc on the kicks.

Despite taking six sacks, Mac Jones was 23-of-27 for 246 yards. You know, actual NFL quarterback stuff.

But Zach Wilson? The fact that he escaped with zero interceptions on the stat sheet is a flat out travesty as the Patriots flat out dropped multiple picks.

Wilson’s success rate was 1-for-15 in the second half. If we include a play negated by penalty, then he was 2-for-16. His best play of the second half was taking a sack on third-and-10 that was negated for a defensive holding penalty for an automatic first down. The 5 yards gained on that penalty were more than the 2 yards the Jets gained on offense after halftime.

But that drive would end after Wilson threw a swing pass on third-and-1 that lost 2 yards and set up the Jets for fourth-and-3 deep in their own end. They had no choice but to punt and likely go to overtime where this shitshow had 3-3 tie written all over it.

This game needed a return touchdown to avoid a tie, but you expected it to come from the defense after one of these quarterbacks made a mistake. Instead, it came from New England’s special teams as Marcus Jones was able to go 84 yards for the first punt return touchdown in the 2022 NFL season with five seconds left. Incredible. Jones was third in the league in punt return average (13.4) coming into the week and you can move him up to at least No. 2 after this one.

The Jets were pathetic in every sense of the word on offense, and Wilson was a huge part of the problem despite the zero interceptions in the box score.

But if you thought there would be any accountability on his part, even a standard “I have to be better” response, you weren’t getting it from Wilson after the game:

He said “no” as quickly and decisively as if someone asked me if I wanted mushrooms on my burger. This makes Pittsburgh’s loss to the Jets and Wilson look a lot worse than it did the day it happened. They really let this little prick score two touchdowns on them in the fourth quarter at home.

I really hope we don’t see either one of these teams in the playoffs. Give us a Joe Burrow vs. Justin Herbert game any day over this.

Lions at Giants: Felt Like Preseason Expectations

The preseason odds show the Giants being slightly more favored to do something this year than the Lions, but it sure felt like more people were on the Lions going into this season. Maybe it was Dan Campbell’s quotes and Hard Knocks, but the Giants mostly just had that easy schedule going for them and the hope that Brian Daboll could do something with Daniel Jones.

Well, on Sunday he got the first 300-yard game out of Jones this year, but it came because Saquon Barkley was shut down (15 carries for 22 yards) and the Giants were trailing for the last 35 minutes.

Jones doubled his season interception count from two to for and the Lions were able to win 31-18 after Jamaal Williams scored three more touchdowns.

It wasn’t a flashy Lions performance. It was just good trench play with rookie Aidan Hutchinson intercepting Jones in the second quarter to start the ball rolling Detroit’s way. Jared Goff avoided the big mistakes Jones didn’t, and Barkley just had nothing going on the ground for his worst game of the season.

This is much more in line with the team we envisioned Campbell would have in Detroit this year. Not the team that was No. 1 on offense, No. 32 on defense after four or five games. Detroit has won three in a row with more of the defensive approach expected.

The Giants are still okay at 7-3, but you can see how things could spiral out of control here with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, an improved Washington team twice, the Eagles twice, and the Vikings in Minnesota.

Actually, if Jones doesn’t resume his winning ways against Washington, there is a real chance this team could miss the playoffs in exchange for Washington making it. That’s how bad it hurts to lose this Detroit game, since that was the kind of “winnable” game that had the Giants feasting on a 7-2 start.

Bears at Falcons: Cordarrelle Runs into the Record Book

Without Khalil Herbert available, Chicago’s historic rushing streak did come to an end with only 160 yards after a record five straight games of 230-plus yards on the ground.

But by losing 27-24 in Atlanta, the team did make some more history. The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to lose four straight games when rushing for at least 160 yards. The Bears are also the fourth team in NFL history to lose at least four straight games when scoring at least 24 points. The 2011-12 Saints hold the record with a five-game losing streak.

It happened in what has become a familiar fashion this year. The Bears had another double-digit lead, but that was short-lived after Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, his ninth, setting a new record and breaking a tie with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington.

The Bears were down 24-17 to start the fourth quarter, but that left plenty of time for a time-consuming drive that took up over half the quarter to tie the game at 24 with David Montgomery’s touchdown run.

The Falcons had their own long drive on the ground with Patterson making the key conversion on a fourth down. That led to a 53-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo, and he did not disappoint this time with 1:47 left.

So once again, Fields was in the two-minute drill and only needed a field goal with nearly a full two minutes and three timeouts. Tons of time. But where most teams would throw the ball against a bad defense, the Bears started the drive with two designed runs. Fields gained 5 yards and took two big hits and looked injured.

On third-and-5, he was late and high on a short throw that was tipped and intercepted to effectively end the game. Now there are reports he had a shoulder injury after running 18 times for 85 yards in the game.

The Bears are 3-8 and heading nowhere with a quarterback who is now 1-8 at fourth-quarter comebacks and 2-8 at all game-winning drive opportunities. The second win was against Houston this year when Davis Mills threw a pick in a tied game and Fields just had to take two knees to set up a 30-yard field goal. Even he couldn’t screw that one up.

Fantasy nerds are eating this offense up because of the rushing points, but how is any of this sustainable when it isn’t winning games, Fields isn’t developing as a passer, he isn’t closing games out since he isn’t passing when they need to, and it doesn’t appear he can stay healthy on this rushing workload?

And nice trade for Chase Claypool. He has 32 yards in three games.

After this game, I’m out on the Chicago passing game the rest of the season.

Hurry-Up Finish

Busy week ahead, so here are the final four games.

Raiders at Broncos: The Most Predictable One-Score Game of Week 11

If you knew these teams this year, then you knew this would be another one-score, low-scoring game. Some great kicking helped things get to overtime tied at 16, but it could have ended in regulation if the Raiders scored a touchdown from the Denver 7.

But the Raiders won the coin toss, and Derek Carr only needed two throws to beat the Broncos with a 35-yard touchdown to Davante Adams. Nice route, but I have no idea what the coverage was trying to accomplish against one of the best receivers in the game.

Carr passed for over 300 yards in Denver for the fourth season in a row, picking up the win for the third straight year to complete a sweep of the embarrassing Broncos. For all the talk about firing Josh McDaniels during the season, this sweep just might be the final nail for Nathaniel Hackett in Denver. They can let this thing play out for 17 games, but he looks completely out of his element.

Panthers at Ravens: To Think They Were Favored by a Baker’s Dozen

I really liked Panthers +13, but a game that barely broke 13 total points? What the hell? This was the second game this season that was tied 3-3 after the third quarter. The Buccaneers-Saints also did it.

There were a few surprise interceptions from big men to keep the score down in this one. Lamar Jackson had one early and Baker Mayfield had one late. Jackson ended up squeezing a game-winning drive out of this one on a 37-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

Two plays later, the Panthers fumbled on a reception and Jackson turned that short field into a touchdown run and 13-3 lead, which stood this time. No blown lead for Baltimore, and it did extend the streak to holding a double-digit lead in all 10 games this season.

But if this is how the Ravens are going to play at home after a bye with Mark Andrews back as a 13-point favorite against Carolina, then there are going to be some challenges ahead despite the appearance of the league’s easiest remaining schedule.

Commanders at Texans: Powerbomb in Houston

The only two things you need to know from this game are that Houston was outgained 246-5 in yards in the first half, and Dameon Pierce got powerbombed:

Rams at Saints: This Turkey Is Cooked

After losing Cooper Kupp (ankle) last week, the Rams lost Matthew Stafford during the game to the concussion protocol, and then were shredded by Andy Dalton in a 27-20 loss to the Saints to fall to 3-7.

The Rams might as well call it a year and rest Kupp and Stafford. Do not sacrifice their long-term health for a lost cause.

We get into the territory of deciding if the 2022 Rams are having the worst title defense in the Super Bowl era. The main competition would be the 1987 Giants, who started 0-5 during a strike season with replacement games and finished 6-9. The 1999 Broncos finished 6-10 but they also saw John Elway retire and Terrell Davis get hurt, so they get more of a pass with far lower expectations coming into the year than these Rams had. The 1982 49ers finished 3-6 in another strike season, so when it comes to non-strike seasons, the 2022 Rams may fit the bill for worst title defense of all time.

Next week: It’s Turkey Week and the first game (Bills-Lions) could actually be the best of the trio on Thursday. Could even be one of the best all week if the Lions play like they have been lately. Sunday’s schedule is so bad that Bengals-Titans is the only game between two teams with a winning record. We also get stuck watching the Packers in prime time again in Philadelphia. Which version of each team shows up? Who knows, but it’s no longer a marquee matchup in the NFC this season.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 8

We officially are in a world where Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are on 3-5 teams, and Geno Smith (No. 4) and Marcus Mariota (No. 6) are in the top six in QBR on division-leading teams after eight weeks.

Not eight quarters. Not at the end of September. It is Halloween and this season’s candy has drugs in it.

The 2022 NFL season is like what you would get from an alternate timeline stemming from 2014 where Brady’s “We’re onto Cincinnati” and Rodgers’ “Relax” never happened. Also, we really might be making Mariota and Geno happen in the NFL.

It is a weird season, but I don’t think Sunday taught us much we didn’t already know. Close games were also down again with only seven games featuring a comeback opportunity. Who saw Falcons-Panthers as a candidate for Game of the Year?

Since it is Halloween, the headings this week will make references to horror/thriller movies.

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Rams: The Silence of the Rams

Not to dwell much on this game, because it’s almost boring how much Kyle Shanahan owns Sean McVay, but this could go down as a pivotal breaking point in the NFC race.

Perhaps more than any game this year, the Christian McCaffrey trade paid its biggest dividends here. I don’t think the 49ers win this game so thoroughly without the trade, especially with Deebo Samuel out injured. It also would have been a swing in LA’s favor if they pulled off the trade as we know they are capable of doing and were reportedly interested in acquiring CMC. Good job, San Francisco.

But CMC was a force on Sunday as he threw, caught, and ran a touchdown in San Francisco’s 31-14 win. That hadn’t been done since LaDainian Tomlinson over 15 years ago.

Outside of getting away with a horrific throw that Jalen Ramsey should have intercepted, Jimmy Garoppolo was sharp (21-of-25 for 235 yards) as he usually is against this team. McCaffrey was dynamic, George Kittle snagged a late touchdown, and the team closed out well in the fourth quarter.

For the Rams, I really need an explanation for how they could have Cooper Kupp in a 17-point game after the two-minute warning. It is inexcusable coaching. Kupp looked seriously hurt after getting tackled with just over a minute left to play. Early reports are he dodged a bullet, but we’ll see if Tom Brady already found a new witch to keep Kupp out of their matchup of disappointing teams next week.

But to put your star quarterback and receiver in a 31-14 game with 2:24 left when you’re 91 yards away from the end zone? Screw that. You already lost. It’s over. Raise the white flag and send in the backups at your crucial positions.

The rule of thumb here should be that if it’s a 16-point game, then you can play it out. Your chances of going 8+8 in that time are still total shit, so ideally, it’s more realistic to still battle in a 14-to-15 point game. Touchdown, onside kick, touchdown. That’s at least possible. As for time, applying the 2003 Colts-Bucs standard, you should probably pull your irreplaceable guys in any three-score deficit situation in the last four minutes, barring any incredible field position advantage. Definitely the last three minutes.

McVay failed against Shanahan once again, but I’m more outraged about the ending than anything else in this game. The 49ers simply have a better roster than the Rams do this year. A sweep was bound to happen when you’re used to getting owned by a team like this. Be glad you stole the one win in the most important meeting last January.

Packers at Bills: Child’s Play

Strange game on Sunday night. It felt like the Bills were toying with Green Bay after scoring on five straight drives and taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter. After defiantly stopping Aaron Jones on a fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter, the Bills really could have blown this one open with Stefon Diggs having his way with the secondary.

But as if he was bored with the game, Josh Allen started making risky passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, including one in the end zone with 10:05 left. Aaron Rodgers was mostly a bus driver for the game’s first 50 minutes, taking advantage of a strong rushing performance from his backs (30 carries for 197 yards) while trying to avoid the pressure from the pass rush when he had to throw to his limited receiving corps.

But Rodgers put together a 95-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-17. The defense didn’t get a quick enough stop, and by the time Rodgers got the ball back, he was in miracle territory. Mason Crosby’s 55-yard field goal was wide and short with 38 seconds left to end it, but the Packers (+10.5) covered in a 27-17 loss, the first time Rodgers was a double-digit underdog in his NFL career.

In a weird way, it wasn’t an awful night for the Packers. They ran it well, they got a few great catches from rookie wideout Romeo Doubs, and they didn’t get entirely blown out and covered.

Buffalo looked mortal in this one, but it was still never in any real danger of losing. At this point, Green Bay is going to hand Philadelphia its first loss in November in what is still a non-playoff season because of the hole it is digging right now.

Steelers at Eagles: Drag Matt Canada to Hell

Frankly, I am glad the Steelers are on a bye next week as I need a break from spending three hours watching them struggle to score very few points and look clueless for long stretches on defense.

I’ve said it before that Mike Tomlin did Kenny Pickett no favors by choosing to start him when he did. It is quite possible that two of Pickett’s first four starts are on the road against the Super Bowl teams this year (Bills and Eagles). When your defense gets absolutely shredded by Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, it is hard for the rookie to keep up, especially when he’s running Matt Canada’s offense with the new T-Rich (Najee Harris) in the backfield.

Pickett almost escaped this one without an interception, though he had one late in a 35-13 game on another tipped ball. No big deal, but what happened before then wasn’t very positive. Pickett now has two touchdown passes to eight interceptions in five games.

The Eagles have been historically great in the second quarter, and they did not disappoint with a 14-3 second quarter in this one to take control of the game. When the Eagles came out in the third quarter and Hurts threw his fourth touchdown, and the first to someone other than A.J. Brown, it felt over at that point. Going through the motions for the last 28 minutes.

With the Eagles, I’m still not convinced I’m watching some kind of all-time 7-0 team that’s going to challenge a perfect season here. But compared to the Steelers? It’s no contest right now. A.J. Brown (three) caught more touchdowns on Sunday than the Steelers have touchdowns to their wide receivers (two) this season.

Remember when the 2004 Steelers, behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, beat the undefeated Patriots and Eagles in back-to-back weeks? Fun times. We are far removed from those days. With the 22-point loss, the Steelers tie their 1986 team (2-6 with minus-77 scoring differential through eight games) for the worst start to a season since the merger.

Giants at Seahawks: Paranormal Activity

I really botched the preview (and parlays) for this one. Expecting a little shootout and showcase for the running backs in what would be another game decided by one score, we got a 27-13 win by the pass-happy Seahawks who only got 51 rushing yards out of rookie Kenneth Walker.

I did not think the Seahawks would pass up the chance to run the explosive Walker against the 32nd-ranked run defense in yards per carry, especially against the most blitz-happy pass defense on a week where DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were not 100%.

Yet, Geno Smith put the ball up often and early, and both those receivers caught a touchdown. Lockett’s was a game winner to break a 13-13 tie in the fourth, which was nice since he was screwing this game up with a fumble and dropped touchdown earlier.

Just when you think the Giants were going to go on another fourth-quarter comeback, they fumbled a punt return with just over six minutes left. That gave the Seahawks the ball at the 32 and they only needed two plays to get the insurance touchdown at 27-13. No one scored the rest of the way, making it the first Giants game decided by more than eight points this season.

Geno Smith gets credited with his first game-winning drive since December 28, 2014. Is that a record for length in between game-winning drives? No, Doug Flutie went over 10 years before, but he also wasn’t in the NFL for most of that time. Smith’s gap is the fifth longest on record.

This Geno season is just off the charts insane, and it is making these Seattle games hard to predict. The thought that a Pete Carroll team would beat the Chargers and Giants by double digits is crazy. Those games would go down to the wire in the Russell Wilson era for sure.

Panthers at Falcons: Tom Brady’s Final Destination Is Losing Division to This

Imagine an NFL game with:

  • Game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion to start the fourth quarter
  • Go-ahead field goal
  • Answered by go-ahead touchdown, the running back’s third of the game
  • Answered by a deep 47-yard touchdown pass
  • Four-and-out stop
  • Kick a field goal to go up 34-28 with 36 seconds left
  • The rare 75-yard touchdown drive manufactured in 24 seconds with WR1 pulling in a Hail Mary with 12 seconds left
  • An excessive celebration penalty pushing the ball back 15 yards and the kicker misses the extra point, leading to overtime
  • Bad interception seems to doom home team in overtime
  • Redemption-seeking kicker adds to his bad reputation by missing 32-yard field goal
  • Home team drives for 41-yard game-winning field goal to move into first place with 37-34 win
  • There were seven plays of 30-plus yards in this game, and all but one of them came in the fourth quarter or overtime.

If that’s how Buccaneers-Ravens or Bills-Packers turned out this weekend, we’d be calling it the Game of the Year. An instant classic. But when it’s the Panthers and the Falcons in the 2022 NFC South, we just laugh at it.

But that was some very dramatic stuff with both teams trying desperately to stay on brand and not win this game. I don’t like Atlanta’s late field goal to go up six, which implores the Panthers to go for the touchdown. They got it as D.J. Moore was incredible, but the excessive celebration is a lame call in such an emotional moment. Wise to enforce it on the extra point, and now we see if kicker Eddy Pineiro has a long career ahead of him as two misses this bad can be devastating to a kicker’s psyche.

It really felt like the Atlanta defense choked away another one, then Mariota did the same in overtime. But Pineiro had their back both times. Kicker has been a problem for basically the entire run of the Carolina franchise.

When you come up with a top games of the season list for this year, I think you’ll have to include this one. Against all odds.

Cardinals at Vikings: We Need to Talk About Kyler

Remember when the Cardinals were 7-0 last year but they should have lost to Minnesota in Week 2 if the kicker didn’t blow a 37-yard kick? Well, the Vikings got a little revenge for that one with this 34-26 win.

Kyler Murray threw for over 300 yards and got his first score to DeAndre Hopkins this year. Rondale Moore apparently only scores and puts up yards on the Cardinals, repeating some of his effort from last year in this one with 92 yards and a touchdown.

But it still was not enough to overcome the many mistakes. The Cardinals botched a snap in a 28-23 game in the fourth quarter while driving. They had to settle for a field goal and 28-26 deficit. Thinking they were getting the ball back, the special teams muffed the punt and gave up a short-field touchdown. But it wouldn’t be a Minnesota game without a kicking miscue, and a missed extra point kept it a one-possession game at 34-26.

But despite getting three drives in a 34-26 game in the final 8:30, Murray was unable to get the job done. He was off with his receiver on a pick, he threw too short of the sticks on a fourth down, and he was sacked on the final two plays of the game, causing him to run out of time.

Minnesota is 6-1 with another win by one possession, but as long as the Packers keep struggling, it may not matter if this team isn’t worthy of a 6-1 record. They will be the best option left to win the division title.

Commanders at Colts: Misery, It Follows Indy

If you are going to bench Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger, maybe you should try scoring more than one offensive touchdown on a short field that was only successful because of a pass interference flag. Otherwise, you might as well just start Ryan.

Ehlinger wasn’t bad for an inexperienced player making his first start, but the game ended up exposing that the supporting cast just hasn’t played well this year from the line to Jonathan Taylor to the receivers. On Sunday, Taylor lost a big fumble in the second half, the defense blew a 16-7 lead to a scrambling Taylor Heinicke, and Michael Pittman Jr. dropped a perfect pass from Ehlinger in the final seconds. It was a pass that could have led to a game-winning field goal, though with the Colts’ kicking situation, it was not a given the kick would go through. But at least give them a chance. The offense failed again.

It was another tough loss for Indy and a close win for the Commanders, who are 4-4 now. Terry McLaurin, who grew up as a local Colts fan, is a big-time receiver and it was nice to see his emotion come out after snatching an interception away from the Colts to come down with a 33-yard catch that set up Heinicke for the 1-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left. It was the biggest play in the 17-16 win.

An upset win if you buy the spread, but I always thought the Commanders hand the upper hand in this one.

Dolphins at Lions: The Vanishing of the Detroit Offense

The Dolphins had to do something they had done only once this season: Score more than 21 points in a game. The Lions were back to their high-scoring ways, and it was clear early that this would be a shootout. In fact, the only stop in the first half by either team was Miami fumbling in scoring territory on its opening drive. That helped Detroit take an early 14-point lead, and it would lead 21-7 as well, but the Dolphins kept scoring after that early miscue.

The problem is the Lions only had three possessions in the second half and failed to score on all of them. Penalties from the offensive line hurt the first two drives, then in a scoreless fourth quarter with Miami leading 31-27, Jared Goff threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 with 2:52 left. The Dolphins did a great job in the four-minute offense with Tyreek Hill continuing his huge day (12 catches for 188 yards) and finishing the Lions off so they never got the ball back.

I still am not sure what to make of the Dolphins (5-3) in this AFC, but I know they are more interesting to follow than what we are used to from Miami.

Broncos at Jaguars: Lawrence in the Clutch? Get Out. Nope.

I thought Doug Pederson was inheriting the best quarterback prospect of his coaching career, but Trevor Lawrence is worse in the NFL than Carson Wentz. At least Wentz could look like a fake MVP at this point in 2017, his second season with Pederson. Lawrence literally can’t win a game unless his defense is dominant in a wire-to-wire win.

The Jaguars tried to escape this one with 17 points, including two touchdown drives set up on short fields. While that is enough to beat the 2022 Broncos in most weeks, it was not the case in London. If Russell Wilson was going to be that annoying on the plane ride over, he damn well better back it up on the field. Down 17-14 late, he threw a perfect bomb for 47 yards to start the drive, scrambled for a key third-down conversion, and the running game put the ball in the end zone to take a 21-17 lead with 1:43 left.

That 21 is the magic number for beating Jacksonville, which has now lost 40 straight games when allowing at least 21 points. With time for a comeback, Lawrence squandered it immediately by throwing an interception on the first play. The route was jumped by K’Waun Williams. Wilson converted a fourth-and-1 sneak to ice the game.

Wilson is the 14th quarterback in NFL history with 30 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He has done it in the third-fewest games (181), which includes playoffs.

Lawrence is now 1-11 (.083) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. The Jaguars are 0-6 in that department this season (worst in the league) and the first team to blow four fourth-quarter leads after doing so three weeks in a row. Detroit (0-3) is the only other team to not win a close game yet this season.

That 2-1 start by Jacksonville was some of the tastiest fool’s gold I’ve seen in years in the NFL. Denver has fooled me plenty as well, but there is still more to build there with this defense and if Wilson can ever get back on track.

Bears at Cowboys: The Texas Run Defense Massacre

Since 1970, NFL teams were 372-9-1 (.975) when they rushed for at least 200 yards and had a passer rating of 115 or higher. The Bears did both those things in Dallas (240 rushing yards, 119.4 passer rating) and still lost 49-29 in a game that wasn’t that close most of the day.

Chicago is the first team in NFL history to lose by more than seven points when rushing for at least 170 yards and having a rating of 115 or higher.

How did it happen? First, 42 of those rushing yards to get over the 200-yard mark came in the fourth quarter after the Bears were down 49-29. They also lost a fumble by David Montgomery that was returned for a touchdown. Justin Fields took four sacks, which do not bring down the passer rating, and the Bears had four failed completions in the last eight minutes alone.

It was not the strongest offensive performance, and the defense was abysmal as Dallas converted 9-of-11 times on third down. Dak Prescott looked closer to 2021 form (21-of-27 for 250 yards, three total touchdowns). Tony Pollard lived it up in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence with 131 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The Bears are moving the ball better and scoring, which is nice to see, but the defense was a massive letdown again on the road. The Cowboys can take a deserved 6-2 record into the bye before some challenging games in the next month.

Patriots at Jets: Return of the Living Dead

The Patriots have fallen from grace as hard as any NFL team in recent memory, but we know Bill Belichick isn’t washed up as long as he is clowning the Jets and making their offense look like crap. Who cares about a quarterback controversy if you’re forcing Zach Wilson to throw three interceptions and score 10 points in the first 58 minutes now that he lacks home-run hitter Breece Hall?

Belichick is now 5-0 against the Jets since 2020, or the start of his post-Brady years. He can’t seem to get by Buffalo or the Dolphins anymore, but beating the Jets still is in his wheelhouse.

Titans at Texans: Houston’s New (Derrick Henry) Nightmare

Occasionally, a game goes exactly as planned in the NFL. Who cares if rookie Malik Willis made his first start for a sick/injured Ryan Tannehill? Derrick Henry had three straight 200-yard rushing games against Houston, and that was a couple years ago. They are worse than ever against the run this year.

Sure enough, Henry rumbled ahead for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win that wasn’t even that close. The Texans got a touchdown with 17 seconds left that did not matter. There were 79 passing yards after the two-minute warning, doubling the total of 79 net passing yards in the game’s first 58 minutes. We were so close to having the NFL’s first game since 1978 where neither team had more than 40 net passing yards.

The numbers Henry would put up if he played Houston every week would be astronomical.

Raiders at Saints: I Know Who Killed My Parlays

The Raiders were the third team to get shut out this season, and the third to lose 24-0 (Colts vs. Jaguars) or 29-0 (Lions vs. Patriots). But this really should be in the running for the worst performance of the season by any team.

How do you get Davante Adams the ball one time for 3 yards against a secondary that did not have top corner Marshon Lattimore? I don’t care if Adams was getting over the flu; Derek Carr is a bigger virus and this Josh McDaniels strain is an especially difficult one for the Raiders.

Like a fool, I bought into the Josh Jacobs hype after three career-best type of games. At this point, if you spot a three-game trend, bet the other way the next game. I’m not just saying this because of Jacobs rushing for 43 yards. I’ve noticed a lot of three-game hot streaks that blew up the fourth game this year as these teams and players are so inconsistent this year.

Alvin Kamara scored his first three touchdowns of the season, so the Saints have had their own issues, but not on Sunday despite still missing Lattimore and their top two wideouts. But Andy Dalton vastly outplayed Carr, who finished with 101 passing yards (career low in a game he was not injured) on 26 attempts on what had become one of the worst defenses in the league.

I guess this one was on the house from Vegas.

Next week: Tough break on Rams-Buccaneers not living up to the preseason hype, but Chargers-Falcons has to include some fourth-quarter hilarity, right? I get a much needed week off from watching the Steelers, and we’ll see if the Chiefs can avenge the only 24-point beatdown of the Mahomes era on Sunday night against Tennessee. NBC is going to need Tannehill to play in that one for it to have a chance to be competitive.  

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 7

I had my reservations about the Week 7 schedule going into the weekend, and it is hard to say that wasn’t justified with the results. There was a lot of sloppy football on Sunday with the Bills and Eagles, the leaders in each conference, enjoying a bye week.

We had a season-low seven games with a comeback opportunity, and there were only two lead changes in the fourth quarter. One even involved a game with the Raiders-Texans that was decided by 18 points.

If Sunday is remembered for anything, it would have to be a new low point in the careers of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, which just so happens to be occurring simultaneously. While both have had plenty of games worse than how they played individually on Sunday, it’s the continuation of a rough stretch since they met in a 14-12 oddity in Week 3 that is the reason why we can call this their lowest point in the NFL. Both are floundering on 3-4 teams that have fallen further than expected this year.

The NFL would be up shit creek if it did not have a rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to promote.  

At least, that’s one of the main things I took away from Sunday.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at 49ers: Not a Super Rematch

Patrick Mahomes DGAF what “sharp money” says about his team’s chances, especially going on the road after a tough loss to Buffalo. This is exactly the kind of game the Chiefs tend to dial in for when people start doubting them. While I understood the tactical advantages to the 49ers having a real shot in this one with them getting some of their best players back and adding Christian McCaffrey after a big trade, there’s still that glaring mismatch of Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.

It showed up here again even if Mahomes was intercepted on his first drive and the 49ers quickly built a 10-0 lead. Of course, the Chiefs are no strangers to coming back from 10-point deficits early.

Of the eight drives Mahomes played against what is supposed to be a top-tier defense, he threw for 423 yards, led six touchdown drives, one missed field goal from 39 yards before halftime, and that early pick off a deflection. Incredible stuff from this offense that nearly got three 100-yard receivers as Travis Kelce was just two yards shy of joining JuJu Smith-Schuster (124) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (111). 

The Chiefs finally hit on that deep ball to MVS for 57 yards, and it could not have come in a more critical moment than in the fourth quarter on a third-and-11 after the 49ers had cut the lead to 28-23. That led to another touchdown and 35-23 lead on Mecole Hardman’s third touchdown of the game on a jet sweep. Four snaps later, you could see Garoppolo in immediate trouble with edge pressure from Frank Clark, resulting in a sack and safety in the end zone. JuJu scored another touchdown to make it 44-23, blowout city. The Chiefs were 6-of-7 on third down with Mahomes, including four of their five biggest gains in the game (57, 45, 34, and 27 yards).

Let’s just say Garoppolo did not show up around the end zones. Not only did he have the safety, but he had a brutal red-zone pick earlier in the game when the 49ers were down 14-13 late in the second quarter. The Chiefs had one interception on defense all season and left this game with two more.

When the Chiefs play like they did against Arizona, Tampa Bay, and this game, which were all on the road, they look like the best team in the NFL. Certainly the best offense, and not one you’d ever think to bring up Tyreek Hill’s absence for. This is why if they have to travel to Buffalo for an AFC Championship Game, you can trust that they’ll be competitive and give themselves a good chance to win.

Since losing 27-3 to the Titans last year to start 3-4, the Chiefs have had a fourth-quarter lead or tie in 20 straight games. Now they get to enjoy the bye week and get ready for some Tennessee revenge on SNF at home in Week 9.

The 49ers (3-4) are going to have better days with McCaffrey fitting into the offense well after he learns the complete playbook, and the defense won’t see another quarterback or offense this good the rest of the regular season.

Buccaneers at Panthers: Does Tom Brady Suck Enough to Retire Yet?

In 2014, Tom Brady infamously said “When I suck, I’ll retire.” Well, he didn’t do that after the 2019 season where he finished 4-5 down the stretch and threw a pick-six in the playoffs on his final pass with the Patriots. He came back for more with Tampa Bay, and enough things went his way to win a seventh Super Bowl immediately.

But instead of retiring in the perfect spot on top with nothing else to prove, he had to come back for more in 2021. Getting shut out 9-0 to Taysom Hill and the Saints in prime time ended his MVP bid, and the Rams ended his repeat dream in the divisional round game that would have been a fitting end to his career.

But retirement lasted just 40 days so that he can come back to a team with downgrades at coach, tight end, offensive line, and healthy receivers. But hey, who doesn’t want to piss off their family so they can pad the passing totals into unreachable territory for a 3-4 team that’s fading fast?

Good thing the NFC South and the NFC in general are this bad, but this has to be the lowest point of Brady’s 23-year career. He is 3-4 for the first time since 2002, his first full season as a Week 1 starter for New England. But in the last two weeks, Brady has lost as a 9.5-point favorite in Pittsburgh to a rookie quarterback and Mitch Trubisky, and now he’s lost as a 13.5-point favorite to a Carolina team that wasn’t expected to win more than a game or two after firing the head coach and trading away star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Brady had two other losses (2012 Arizona and 2019 Miami) as a favorite of 13.5+, but at least those games were competitive late. This was a 21-3 embarrassment unlike anything we have seen in Brady’s career.

Tampa Bay had zero turnovers, zero missed field goals, and they only had four penalties for 30 yards. So, it wasn’t even some fluky upset where they kept coughing up the ball, or got railroaded by officials, or the kicker went insane and kept missing. None of that. Tampa Bay was forced to punt six times on the first eight drives, and it was stopped twice on fourth down in the game.

However, the third play of the game seemed to set the tone for the day to follow. Brady had Mike Evans wide open for a 64-yard touchdown, but the veteran inexplicably dropped the ball. The drive ended in a punt, which would become common the rest of the way.

Watching that play on RedZone, I was shocked but also just figured they were going to destroy this team if receivers like Evans are getting that open. However, it was seriously the best touchdown opportunity the Bucs had all game long. Carolina just kept stopping them cold as Brady’s low passes and throws short of the sticks just failed to keep any drives going. Leonard Fournette was also stopped on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Carolina backup P.J. Walker made confident throws and did not get greedy in turning the ball over on risky plays. He led three touchdown drives to give the Panthers a stunning 21-3 upset.

The Buccaneers are the first team since the 2009 Steelers to lose consecutive games outright as a favorite of at least 9.5 points. They are the only team on record (since 1978) to do it without turning the ball over in either game.

In fact, this is the second time in Brady’s career he lost a game by at least 18 points despite zero turnovers. He also lost 34-10 to the Titans in 2018.

Last week was a different kind of crazy in Pittsburgh, but this was just downright embarrassing against arguably the worst team in the NFL.

We knew there were signs before the season started that things would not be as good as they were in 2020-21. We knew in Week 1 that not everything was okay. But who would have guessed that after Brady and Aaron Rodgers met in a weird 14-12 game in Week 3 that the last month would play out the way it has for both?

We are witnessing the lowest points of their careers at the same time.

Packers at Commanders: When the Cat Starts Missing the Litter Box…

I thought Washington (+4.5) had a decent shot in this with the way the Packers have been slumping and the fact that Taylor Heinicke led the offense to 430 yards in a matchup last year, the team’s second-most yards in a game in the last five seasons. Green Bay won that one 24-10 because Heinicke just could not finish in the red zone at all.

But after seeing Heinicke start this game so inaccurately and throwing a pick-six to fall behind 14-3, it was absolutely shocking to see him outplay and beat Aaron Rodgers in the end. Once Heinicke settled down, he started making plays and used his legs to keep many plays alive. Terry McLaurin also put in a spirited effort with 73 yards and a touchdown.

Washington led 20-14 in the fourth quarter and the defense was able to stop Rodgers on a fourth-and-1 pass that should have been caught by Romeo Doubs, but it was right at the marker, and he couldn’t come up with it. Washington added a field goal for a 23-14 lead, then Rodgers answered with a touchdown on a drive aided by multiple penalties.

Heinicke almost ran the clock out on the Packers, but Rodgers got it back for one more chance in a 23-21 game with 23 seconds left. One big pass to Sammy Watkins for 28 yards and a spike seemed to set up another Hail Mary finish. At least, that probably would have been the smartest play for Rodgers. Instead, from 54 yards out the Packers seemed to believe they could pull off a series of laterals to score. It was very amusing and lasted longer than most attempts, but oddly enough it was Rodgers’ lateral to a lineman along the sideline that went awry, and the game ended. It wouldn’t have counted either way as the Packers were penalized for an illegal blindside block earlier on the play.

The Packers finished 0-for-6 on third down, their first game without a conversion since Brett Favre led the Packers into Denver in a 31-10 loss in 1999.

This is a lot of bad firsts for Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur as of late:

  • Between January’s 13-10 playoff loss and Week 1’s 23-7 loss, that was the first time in Rodgers’ career where he did not throw a touchdown pass in consecutive starts.
  • Rodgers beat Tampa Bay 14-12, the first time in his career he won a game where he scored fewer than 20 points and was shut out in the second half.
  • Rodgers threw his second career pick-six at home against the Patriots, a game they had to win in overtime against the 9.5-point underdog and their third-string rookie quarterback.
  • Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU as a favorite of at least 6 points before losing in back-to-back weeks to the Giants (+8) and Jets (+7.5).
  • The 27-10 loss to the Jets is the worst regular-season home loss that Rodgers started and finished in his career.
  • Now you have Sunday’s game as the first in 234 starts where the Packers failed to convert a third down under Rodgers.
  • The Packers are 3-4 after seven games for the first time in the Rodgers era (they were 3-3-1 in 2018).
  • Rodgers has also not passed for over 260 yards in nine straight starts, the longest streak of his career.

What a great time for the Packers (3-4) to be on Sunday Night Football against rested Buffalo next week. But you can see why this would easily be the low point of Rodgers’ career.

Steelers at Dolphins: Maybe Don’t Draft a QB with “Pick” In His Name?

After he lost to the Jets, I said Kenny Pickett had about the most encouraging three-interception debut a quarterback could have in the NFL.

After he lost 38-3 in Buffalo, I said Picket had about the most encouraging 35-point blowout loss in his first start that a quarterback could have.

After Pickett became the 28th quarterback since the 1970 merger to throw at least seven interceptions in his first four NFL games, I’m not so sure how encouraged I still am about him.

Pickett is the first quarterback since Ryan Leaf (1998) to throw at least seven interceptions and fewer than three touchdown passes in his first four NFL games. Yikes.

I could brush off literally all three picks against the Jets since they involved tipped balls and a Hail Mary. Even the bad throw in Buffalo was him being desperate down multiple touchdowns late in the half. Then the first pick on Sunday night was a play where Chase Claypool just fell.

But those last two picks in the fourth quarter of a winnable 16-10 game? Ugly stuff from the rookie to waste a good defensive effort over the last three quarters after it looked like the Steelers were going to get blown out on the road again. In fact, this is only the third NFL game in the last five seasons (2018-22) with no points scored after halftime.

I don’t want to make it sound like Pickett was 100% at fault for the loss. Things could have been much different if the defense did not drop three or four of the gift-wrapped interceptions Tua Tagovailoa threw their way. I guess someone has to keep up the lucky QB in the AFC East reputation.

In a frustrating second half for both sides, Pickett continued to get chances in a 16-10 game, thanks in large part to a bad sequence of play calls by Miami coach Mike McDaniel when he probably should have kicked a field goal to go up 19-10 in the third quarter.

But it seemed like Pickett was going to be able to put together a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. But the Steelers were did in by an illegal shift and holding penalty to bring up third-and-16 at the Miami 30. Pickett thought he had something, but the Dolphins just jumped the route and had a big pick.

Getting the ball back with 2:31 left, Pickett had his second shot at hero. After a great fourth-down strike to his tight end Pat Freiermuth for 21 yards, it again seemed like he was going to pull this off. But after bypassing a chance to run for good yardage in the final 25 seconds, Pickett let rip a horrible decision to no Steeler receiver in sight for a game-ending interception at the goal line with 18 seconds left.

These are growing pains many rookies go through. Peyton Manning (1998) is famously on that list of quarterbacks with a lot of picks in their first four games as he actually threw 11 interceptions in his first four games. But if Pickett continues to have the turnovers while only leading the Steelers to about 12 points per four quarters of action, then I think it’s safe to say he’s going to end up more like Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning in the NFL. At least Manning was breaking the rookie records for passing yards and touchdowns when he threw the 28 interceptions in 1998. He also showed a clear improvement in his final 10 games compared to the first six.

Things are not going to get any easier for Pickett with a trip to 6-0 Philadelphia next week. Meanwhile, the Dolphins remain a curious team after getting blanked in the second half and having some questionable clock management and decision making. It is still an incredible outlier that the Dolphins scored 28 points in the fourth quarter of the comeback win over Baltimore when they have failed to score more than 21 points in any of their other six full games.

The quarterback injuries can only work so far as an excuse for McDaniel. With the way Tua took on some contact for several hits on Sunday night, it may not be long before we are talking about injury again at that position.

Giants at Jaguars: The Best Game on Sunday?

Who could have imagined a game between two of the NFL’s worst franchises in recent years would be the best-played game in Week 7? I am not saying it is up there with Bills-Chiefs from last week, but this is the kind of game you should want to see more often.

Both teams moved the ball very well with each finishing with 27 first downs and just above 430 yards. In fact, it’s criminal the over 43.5 points did not hit in this 23-17 game as it’s only the 34th game in NFL history where both teams had 27 first downs and 430-plus yards of offense. It is the first time one of these games ended with fewer than 52 points.

But the game only had one sack and one turnover. There were three fourth-down stops. A few less penalties (21) would be nice, especially if we can ease up on the roughing the passer, but each side got a generous one.

Once it was going to be a tight game in the fourth quarter, you should have known the Jaguars were in trouble. The Giants used to be the terrible fourth-quarter team, but not this year under Brian Daboll. The Jaguars are historically terrible in any game where they don’t lead wire-to-wire and allow more than 20 points.

With the Jaguars leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, I can’t knock Doug Pederson’s decision to go for it. But Trevor Lawrence was stopped on a badly executed quarterback sneak. Sure enough, the Giants took that stop as another opportunity for the offense to go on its fifth game-winning drive of 2022.

The Giants showed Lawrence how the QB sneak is done as they used it on the go-ahead touchdown run with 5:31 left. I can’t believe this is a real stat, but Daniel Jones is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead five game-winning drives in the first seven games of the season. There were 16 other quarterbacks to do it four times, but never 5-of-7 before this run.

With quarterback play down around the league and Jones using his legs so well – he rushed for 107 yards and the winning touchdown in this one – he is now up to No. 6 in QBR (62.6) in 2022. For real.

After the Jaguars went three-and-out, the Giants could have run out the clock, but Saquon Barkley accidentally went out of bounds to save the Jaguars some time, which was almost costly after the Giants tacked on a field goal to take a 23-17 lead.

But Lawrence had 64 seconds left to do something great. He marched the Jaguars down to the New York 17 where he fired a pass to Christian Kirk near the goal line, but the Giants showed great tackling to prevent him from reaching out for the end zone as time expired. The Jaguars were inches away from their biggest win in quite some time.

Instead, the Jaguars have now lost 39 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points. Lawrence is 1-19 when the Jaguars allow more than 11 points in a game. Lawrence is also 1-10 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 2-11 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Before this season, Jones was the guy at the bottom of those lists with his 3-14 (.176) record at GWD opportunities. Now he is 5-1 this year, doing it in historic fashion. So, that leaves hope for Lawrence to turn it around, but this was another winnable game where he came up, quite literally, short.

Colts at Titans: AFC South Supremacy

The Colts have not won the AFC South since 2014 and it is looking like that streak will continue for another year after a fifth-straight loss to the Titans. This loss may be the worst yet because it’s not like the Tennessee offense was anything special with four field goals. The Titans finally scored their first fourth-quarter points of 2022, but they were just two field goals.

It looked like Matt Ryan and the offense figured something out last week with the quick passing game against the Jaguars. But even with their best runner (Jonathan Taylor) and receiving back (Nyheim Hines) returning to action, the offense fared worse than it did against the Titans a few weeks ago.

Ryan was panicking again at the thought of getting hit in the pocket, so he tried to throw a hot route that was intercepted for a touchdown in the first half. His second pick was also the result of trying to not get hit. Even after getting a gift fumble from Ryan Tannehill at midfield in the fourth quarter of a 16-7 game, the best the Colts could do was drive 24 yards for a field goal.

After the Titans matched it to make it 19-10, Michael Pittman fumbled a pass that was close to being incomplete and the Titans ran out the clock with their closer, Derrick Henry, who had 128 yards on the ground.

The Colts are going to be in ninth or 10th place in the AFC going into Week 8, but there is zero reason to trust this team right now.

Lions at Cowboys: Oh, So the Lions Can’t Score Anymore?

This game is one of those great examples of why you just cannot use the final score to judge the closeness of a game. Anyone betting Detroit +6.5 had to be sick on this one as it was the right side for 57 minutes. The Lions were either tied, in the lead, or trailed by no more than 4 points for the first 57 minutes of this turnover-plagued mess of a 24-6 loss as apparently Detroit is done playing historic shootouts after four games.

It did not help that top receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown left after one catch in the first half. But Jared Goff finished with four turnovers (two picks, two fumbles). Still, the costliest turnover of them all may have belonged to running back Jamaal Williams, who coughed the ball up on a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with the Lions down 10-6.

Goff was intercepted on the next drive and the Cowboys turned that into another Ezekiel Elliott touchdown and 17-6 lead. Goff then lost another fumble on a strip-sack and the Cowboys turned that into the final touchdown with Dak Prescott getting his first of the season through the air in his return game.

The Lions have gone from leading the NFL in scoring through four games to six points in their last eight quarters. I guess that’s not that surprising with the injuries and Goff being Goff, but I really thought the Lions could be better than a 1-5 team that only beats Carson Wentz.

As for Dallas, let’s give Prescott some time to catch up. This wasn’t pretty by any means, but if he finds his 2021 groove to go with this defense, then Dallas may have something here.  

Browns at Ravens: When Both Teams Want to Choke

What do you do with two teams who can’t seem to hold on to leads and close games out? The Browns had blown a league-high three leads in the fourth quarter while the Ravens have already blown three double-digit leads after halftime.

This could have been another as not even a 23-13 deficit in the fourth quarter seemed to matter to the Browns, who got one of Jacoby Brissett’s best games this season. The offense cut the lead to 23-20, then the defense forced Justice Hill to fumble just outside the red zone with 3:12 left.

Was it going to happen again? Unfortunately, Brissett is maybe the worst option this side of Trevor Lawrence to finish off a comeback like this. He did seem to have a go-ahead touchdown pass, but Amari Cooper, another suspect player in clutch moments, was penalized for offensive pass interference to wipe out a 34-yard score. That also made the field goal 10 yards longer, and a brutal false start made it 5 yards further than that.

Rookie kicker Cade York continues to be put in difficult situations to kick critical field goals for this team. He made the game winner in Carolina in Week 1, but his 60-yard field goal was blocked by the Ravens here. I felt that the play ended several seconds before the two-minute warning, only to see the clock tick down to 1:59, costing the Browns a clock stoppage. The Ravens are up there with the Eagles for games where the home cooking on the clock operator has stood out to me over the years. However, it is possible the TV angle made this look worse as it didn’t show the ball bouncing around or when the play was finally dead. Still, it looked fishy to me as the players they showed weren’t reacting like the play was still live.

In the end, the Browns used their last remaining timeout to force a three-and-out and get the ball back with 16 seconds. The last play went down as a fumble by Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Ravens escaped with the win despite Lamar Jackson completing nine passes (none to Mark Andrews).

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is 1-11 when the Browns allow at least 23 points since 2021. His only win in that time is against Matt Rhule’s Panthers, and we know Rhule was horrible in that split.

If the Browns can’t beat the Bengals at home to avoid being 2-6 at the bye with trips to Miami and Buffalo to follow, then this team can probably forget about being relevant by the time Deshaun Watson is eligible to return. My bold prediction of Houston having a better record than Cleveland for that Week 13 meeting may not be far off after all.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a reasonable time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 7.

Falcons at Bengals: This was one I’m happy about since I let good numbers change my gut feeling and it worked out. When I sat down the other day to write a little pick for this game, I was ready to go with the Falcons (+6.5) to move to 7-0 ATS. But after seeing how little pass pressure and sacks they had generated, and the terrible 2022 numbers for corner AJ Terrell, and knowing the way Joe Burrow lights it up at home, I changed my pick to the Bengals to win by a touchdown or better.

Sure enough, Burrow passed for 196 yards in the first quarter alone. He had 344 yards at halftime, and this could have been in Norm Van Brocklin (554) territory if the Falcons were equipped to put up a fight. But there was only one touchdown in the second half as the Bengals won 35-17. Burrow finished at 481 yards but that start to the game was some 2004 Colts type of stuff. Lethal.

Atlanta finished with 13 pass attempts, becoming the 11th team since the merger to throw fewer than 14 passes despite trailing by double digits at halftime and losing by at least 17 points. It’s like they’re playing a different sport.

Jets at Broncos: A pyrrhic victory for the 5-2 Jets. They outlasted Denver’s backup quarterback Brett Rypien, 16-9, but lost emerging star rookie running back Breece Hall for the season with a torn ACL. Hall barely played in the game before the injury happened, but he still managed a 62-yard touchdown run. The Jets had no other touchdowns in the game, and the offense only had four other players that gained more than 8 yards. This is a tough injury for an offense that has little kick to it, and the defense isn’t going to feast on backup quarterbacks forever. Don’t trust the Jets as anything more than fool’s gold at this point. And don’t trust the Denver Broncos for a damn thing but a low-scoring game.

Texans at Raiders: Nothing says excitement like two 1-win teams coming out of the bye. But the Houston run defense is the gift that keeps giving as Josh Jacobs hit them up for 143 yards and three touchdowns. The 38-20 final covers up that this was close throughout with the Texans leading 20-17 going into the fourth quarter. But Jacobs scored twice in the quarter to give the Raiders a 31-20 lead, then the defense intercepted Davis Mills, who was having a solid offensive day before that, for a pick-six to make it 38-20.

The late pick-six denied Jacobs the chance to set his career high in rushing for the third week in a row. He had 144 yards against the Broncos, 154 yards against the Chiefs, and now 143 against Houston. The only player to ever rush for at least 143 yards in four consecutive games was Earl Campbell back in 1980 for the Oilers.

Fun fact: Out of Derek Carr’s 31 game-winning drives, this is the one with the largest margin of victory (18) and only the third with a MOV larger than 8 points. The Raiders are the 22nd team in NFL history, and the first since 2014 Steelers vs. Bengals, to win a game by at least 18 points after entering the fourth quarter trailing.

Seahawks at Chargers: I cannot believe these two franchises played a game that was never closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter. Seattle went up 17-0 in the first quarter and the Chargers continue to struggle and rack up injuries as Mike Williams and J.C. Jackson went down in this one. Keenan Allen was limited in his return with just two catches for 11 yards.

Geno Smith outplayed Justin Herbert, and Kenneth Walker stole the show with 168 yards and two touchdown runs. He is showing exactly why I ended up picking him for the Offensive Rookie of the Year winner in August with the expectations Rashaad Penny would get hurt and he’d take over the run-heavy offense Pete Carroll wants. So far, so good.

Next week: Either the Seahawks are going to be 5-3 or the Giants are going to be 7-1 after they meet next week in the schedule’s top game between winning teams if you can believe that. The only other potential game between winning teams is Jets vs. Patriots. What a season, and no, I don’t say that to be complimentary.

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.