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 16

It is hard to tell when Week 15 ended and Week 16 began in the NFL, but I know I have taken a nap during four of the last six island games. Dolphins-Saints without the Manning brothers is another strong snooze contender tonight, but let’s get through Sunday’s recap first.

There are seven games with a comeback opportunity in Week 16 but only four of them came on Sunday. The only fourth-quarter lead change belonged to the Bears in Seattle.

It was a wildly successful week for a lot of the preseason favorites (KC, TB, LAR, GB, BUF, DAL, TEN). In fact, all seven of those teams won and are currently leading their division after they were the favorites to win the division before Week 1. Only the AFC North, currently led by Cincinnati, is an upside-down battle, but the Bengals took a big step forward to deciding that one.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Ravens at Bengals: Pennywise Floats the Ravens in Passing Yards

I hate to see COVID have a huge impact on deciding the AFC North for the second year in a row, and Baltimore has certainly got the shortest end of that stick, but let’s face some facts. The Ravens have not been a very good team all season and this fourth loss in a row was not on Josh Johnson, the latest quarterback to start in Baltimore.

Joe Burrow has had an imperfect second season, but he has been absolute money against the Ravens. You can claim the Ravens are down bad in the secondary now, but Burrow also had 416 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-17 win in Week 7. You know, that game right after the Ravens beat the Chargers 34-6 in one of their only convincing performances of 2021.

Burrow stepped things up into historic company on Sunday with 525 yards and four touchdowns in an easy 41-21 win. Burrow’s 525 yards are the fourth most in a game in NFL history. He’s the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards twice against the same team in a season, and his 941 combined yards in two games are a new record against a team in a season.

Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said coming into the game that Burrow isn’t ready for a gold jacket, but he’ll be ready in record time if he got to play this Baltimore defense every week. The Bengals have displayed their excellent trio of wide receivers against the Ravens this season. Tee Higgins had the monster game this time with 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson was more than respectable for Baltimore, his 13th NFL team (and not his first stint there), with a 300-yard game. But the Ravens never could slow down the Bengals. Even after making it 34-21 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens watched Burrow go 8-for-8 on a 78-yard touchdown drive.

A game like this completely justifies why Burrow was the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Bengals are 4-0 against the Ravens and Steelers this year with every win by double digits. This is why they should be favored to win the division now, but a huge test looms with the Chiefs coming to town on an eight-game winning streak. If Burrow can outduel Mahomes in that one, who is to say they can’t do it again in the playoffs next month?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you told me before the season that Burrow would throw for 400 yards twice on Baltimore, I’d say that’s crazy. If you told me Derek Carr and Carson Wentz also had 400-yard games against the Ravens, I’d say, “damn, they’ve really fallen off a cliff defensively in Baltimore.” That does put it into better perspective.

Success in the NFL is all about stacking. Stacking first downs, stacking scoring drives, and stacking wins. This game becomes a footnote for Burrow, much like Matt Schaub’s 527-yard game, if he follows it up with a dud against the Chiefs and gets swept by the Browns to lose the division title.

But let’s see if this one could be a launching point for this team to do something great this year.

Steelers at Chiefs: The Standard Is 8-8-1

Ever since the Steelers settled for a tie with the winless Lions, I saw a tough schedule and a likely march to 8-8-1 that would mean no playoffs, but we’ll still have to hear “Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.”

I still think that’s likely with the Steelers (7-7-1) in position to rebound from another ugly game to win at home on Monday Night Football against Cleveland in what should be Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game. Hell, the AFC North is still up for grabs for all four teams, but let’s not get crazy. This Pittsburgh team does not deserve the postseason and the six games since the Detroit tie show why.

This team does not show up for games anymore. No touchdowns in the first half of the last five games, something that hasn’t been done in Pittsburgh since 1940. In Weeks 5-14, Roethlisberger actually figured out how to be effective again. But in the last two weeks, the hopeless passes well short of the sticks that plagued the offense in its 1-3 start have returned with a fury and the offense has suffered as a result. While the offense starts games so badly, the defense is also sinking to some of its lowest levels in franchise history. It’s a miracle T.J. Watt has as many sacks as he does when he seems to pull up injured every third drive.

Yet, the Chiefs played this game without superstar tight end Travis Kelce, without kicker Harrison Butker (the backup cost them four points), and Tyreek Hill only had 19 yards on two targets. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire also left after nine carries with a collarbone injury. You would think the Steelers had a fighting chance under those circumstances, but the game was over before halftime again when the Chiefs led 23-0.

Patrick Mahomes was 23-of-30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns, and the numbers could have been even better if Josh Gordon or Byron Pringle had better hands on a couple of plays. Pringle stepped up with 75 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs mostly did whatever they wanted on offense before calling off the dogs early as the Steelers had no fight this time.

This is the fifth time in a calendar year I thought I saw the worst half of football from the Steelers in the Roethlisberger era. The first was the start in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football last December. Then came the 28-0 deficit in the first quarter of the playoff game against Cleveland. Definitely the worst first quarter by a team in NFL playoff history. Then they were down 31-3 in Cincinnati at halftime this year after a Roethlisberger pick-six. Two weeks later, the Vikings were up 23-0 with Dalvin Cook looking like he could run for 400 yards, mostly untouched. Now this one is a contender.

Pittsburgh has trailed by at least 17 points before the fourth quarter in nine of their last 19 games, which is about a calendar year. This is something that only happened nine times in Roethlisberger’s first 143 starts, a period that spanned 10 seasons (2004-2013).

This has been a disastrous stretch of ugly football by the Steelers in all phases. The idea that the 39-year-old quarterback retiring is going to solve things is laughable. At some point, people need to catch on that Tomlin and his staff are to blame for the constant mistakes and lack of adjustments.

But these Chiefs are scary again. While other teams peaked early and faded fast, Kansas City fixed its defense, and the offense has adjusted to the way defenses are playing them and have cut down the turnovers. They scored 48 points on the Raiders with Kelce having 27 yards. They scored 34 points on the Chargers with Kelce and Hill going off for monster games. Now they score a conservative 36 in this one with those two combining for 19 yards as Mahomes got only his second data point in a game without his tight end.

The Chiefs are the team to beat again. I’m not even sure it matters if the Titans get the No. 1 seed. But with the way the Chiefs are playing, they have a very good shot to win in Cincinnati and claim home-field advantage again.

Bills at Patriots: Everything In Its Right Place

If these teams had to play a best-of-seven series in normal weather conditions, I think Buffalo wins the series in five games. When the conditions made it easier for Buffalo to throw and necessary for the Patriots to throw more than three times, the talent disparity in these teams showed up.

The glaring difference is at quarterback, which is why the Bills had been favored to win the AFC East they finally lead again after this 33-21 win. Josh Allen was able to go on the road and throw 47 passes without taking a sack. He also led the team with 64 rushing yards and the Bills never punted. Allen’s game marks the 57th time a quarterback has thrown at least 45 passes against Bill Belichick’s Patriots since 2000. It is the first time that quarterback did not take a sack or throw an interception, though he sure did try to do the latter. That’s just Allen’s style, and today it worked out well as he finished enough drives with touchdowns.

Even though Damien Harris returned from his hamstring injury to rush for 103 yards and three touchdowns, the Patriots only got 145 yards passing out of rookie Mac Jones. Isaiah McKenzie had 125 yards receiving for the Bills to nearly match Jones’ whole passing output. The inevitable Cole Beasley COVID situation may have been a blessing in disguise as McKenzie stepped up with 11 catches (one touchdown) on 12 targets. He had seven catches for 38 yards on the season coming into Sunday, so no one took advantage of the Beasley opportunity better than McKenzie. Gabriel Davis was also out, so maybe the Bills have found a new wrinkle to use here.

But even when the Patriots drew to within 20-14 and 26-21, Allen was able to lead long touchdown drives that put the game out of reach. This is one of the most impressive wins the Bills have had in the Sean McDermott era. No more slip-ups at home against the Falcons and Jets, and the Bills should be able to win this division at 11-6.

As adaptable as the Patriots are with weekly game plans, the talent limitations of the roster and inexperience at quarterback still leave them at a disadvantage in games against teams like the Bills, Buccaneers, and Cowboys.

We could still see a rubber match here in the wild card round. But unless Belichick can figure out how to control the weather, I like the Bills in that one too.

Chargers at Texans: They’re Going to Ruin Herbert Too

One of the more potentially crushing losses of this season just happened to the Chargers, a 10.5-point favorite in Houston. The Chargers were without Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams, but that shouldn’t have stopped them from putting up numbers in Houston. The problem is the defense, without Joey Bosa and Derwin James, couldn’t stop Davis Mills and Rex Burkhead from putting up 34 points on eight drives.

Justin Herbert made his 30th start and it’s already the 18th time the Chargers allowed at least 27 points, tying Mike Glennon for the most such games in a quarterback’s first 30 starts since 2001.

It may have been okay if the Chargers stopped the bleeding at 27 points. Justin Jackson had a big fumble at midfield in the fourth quarter with the Chargers down 24-15. Funny how you won’t see that in the highlight like you will Herbert’s pick-six in desperation mode down 34-23 after the two-minute warning. But Jackson made up for his mistake with another touchdown and a two-point conversion made it 27-23 with 5:50 left. Plenty of time for the Chargers to get the ball back and win.

But that’s when you count on your defense to make a stand. The Chargers folded and allowed a 72-yard touchdown drive that all but sealed it at 34-23. Herbert came through with the pick-six and meaningless touchdown pass to produce the 41-29 final. It puts the Chargers at 8-7 and the playoffs in doubt again.

This was practically a cover version of your typical Philip Rivers/Anthony Lynn (or Mike McCoy) upset loss. We thought Herbert and Brandon Staley were above that, but the spread was likely far too generous for a team coming off a crushing loss to the Chiefs and not having Ekeler/Williams/Bosa/James available. Plus, Mills has actually done a respectable job on a lousy roster when he’s not making his first start on short notice or playing in the rain in Buffalo.

Washington at Cowboys: The NFC East Is a Ponzi Scheme I

“Joyless suckfest” is the phrase I’ve used to describe the Washington football franchise.

They were in rare form on Sunday night after falling behind 42-7 at halftime in Dallas. It’s another masterpiece to add to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s legacy as Dak Prescott threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. You think Joe Burrow threw for a lot of yards on Sunday? The Cowboys could have broken Norm Van Brocklin’s record if there was any need to run another play in the second half.

Given how much the Dallas offense struggled in the first Washington game as well as some other recent games, this was an impressive showing. Throw in that turnover-heavy defense and this could be a team that rides this wave to a Super Bowl. Chiefs vs. Cowboys was my Super Bowl pick a season ago.

Giants at Eagles: The NFC East Is a Ponzi Scheme II

After a 3-3 first half, it looked like Jalen Hurts was going to repeat his career-worst game against the Giants with another stinker as the teams seemed to be playing a different sport than the rest of the league. But the Eagles got it together and cruised to a 34-10 win.

Mike Glennon came off the bench to have a historic performance: 17-of-27 for 93 yards and a pick-six.

Incredibly, Glennon wasn’t the worst quarterback in the game. Jake Fromm made his first start and finished 6-of-17 for 25 yards with a pick and two sacks. Fromm is the first quarterback to start a game, throw at least 15 passes, and finish with fewer than 25 yards since Nathan Peterman did it in 2018. Eli Manning (2004) and Joe Flacco (2017) have done this before too, but something tells me Fromm will be much closer to the career of Peterman than those two.

The NFC East is a Ponzi scheme, and we must prosecute the guilty.

Rams at Vikings: Stafford Thought He Was a Lion Again

Don’t let that 30-23 final or the fact that Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson both went over 100 yards fool you. What should have been an efficient, fun shootout was a mess of a game that saw the Rams lead wire to wire; the first time all year the Vikings didn’t lead by at least six points in a game. There was even a punt return touchdown by the Rams, and Matthew Stafford threw three picks, some uglier than others. It was like Stafford thought a 1 PM game in Minnesota on FOX meant he was a Lion all over again.

But Kupp was awesome again and really helped the Rams stay out of a dramatic ending. The Vikings were 2-of-12 on third down and couldn’t put together a long touchdown drive until the fourth quarter when they were down 27-13.

One Kupp touchdown would have made my (gambling) day, but alas, I cannot experience joy in this 2021 season. Speaking of which…

Buccaneers at Panthers: First Division Title Since 2007

Only Tom Brady can get the MSM to use the line “he’s throwing to receivers he just met!” in Week 16 during a season where teams are trotting out literal nobodies and street free agents due to COVID and injuries. But sure, what a courageous effort to get a 32-6 win over a bad Carolina team while only having Antonio Brown (101 yards in his return), Rob Gronkowski, two running backs combining for 135 yards and two touchdowns behind a top-tier offensive line, and an uncovered Cameron Brate for Brady’s only touchdown pass of the game.

That’s why he’s the GOAT.

Broncos at Raiders: Just Like You Imagined (Not)

In a battle of 7-7 teams, the Raiders prevailed 17-13 despite losing the turnover battle 3-0. Drew Lock did not throw an interception, but Denver was 1-of-10 on third down, had 158 yards of offense, the running backs carried 14 times for 8 yards, and the only touchdown “drive” was a 1-yard plunge after Derek Carr fumbled before halftime.

Teams that allow fewer than 20 points and win the turnover margin by three win 96% of NFL games, so thanks for screwing that up, Denver. At least you didn’t spoil the narrative that Carr needs carried to win games in this league.

Bears at Seahawks: Sweet, Painful Regression

Remember all those warnings about the Seahawks sustaining their unsustainable record in close games? Well, Seattle is now 0-7 at game-winning drive opportunities this season after blowing a 24-17 lead to the Bears in the snow. Russell Wilson took a 13-yard sack that led to a 39-yard field goal being missed that likely would have iced it. A holding penalty and bad play calls also led to the Bears getting the ball again with 2:56 left.

Nick Foles brought the full BDN energy for the ensuing touchdown drive, and got an amazing catch on the two-point conversion with 1:01 left to take a 25-24 lead. I’d normally never advise going for it with that much time, but this was a battle of 4-5 win teams the day after Christmas. Just get it over with as quickly as possible.

Seattle went four-and-out after a penalty-heavy drive. The Wilson-Carroll era is going out sad but look which active quarterback is now .500 in GWD opportunities.

Lions at Falcons: Boyle Foiled

Just when it looked like the Falcons were going to blow another one to the Lions after a Russell Gage fumble, the defense stepped up and intercepted Tim Boyle on a first-and-goal to secure the win, keeping Atlanta (7-8) alive for the playoffs.

Say what you want about Jared Goff, who was out with COVID, but the Lions likely beat Cleveland and win this game if he was available. The Lions may be 2-12-1, but I think they’re better than the other sub-five win teams this year (Jets, Giants, Jaguars, Texans).

As for the Falcons this season, they are now 4-3 at game-winning drive opportunities, 5-3 in close games, and they got their second defensive hold today while only blowing one fourth-quarter lead (Washington in Week 4). And yet, this team has gotten its ass kicked six times this season and will have a shot at the worst scoring differential (currently minus-122) for a 7-win team in NFL history. The 2011 Chiefs finished 7-9 at minus-126 points.

Keep in mind that it was just last year that Atlanta had the best scoring differential in NFL history for a team that finished 4-12 or worse at minus-18 points.

Jaguars at Jets: Wilson’s One Shining Moment

All things considered, this year’s Toilet Bowl wasn’t that bad outside of an unfortunate Achilles injury for James Robinson. Neither of the rookie quarterbacks threw an interception, there was a 102-yard kick return touchdown, and it came down to the wire where the Jaguars of course botched things from the goal line in a 26-21 loss.

But once you saw Zach Wilson scramble for a 52-yard touchdown on a third-and-5, you knew he was going to have a comically high QBR at ESPN. He finished at 92.4, the highest in Week 16 despite another subpar passing performance. But the run was great and it sure was more memorable than anything Trevor Lawrence has done this year. So much like Sam Darnold on a long touchdown run against the Broncos, Wilson now has that one shining moment in his Jets career.

Will there ever be a second?

Next week: If Chiefs-Bengals could be half as good as 2005 Colts-Bengals, I’d be satisfied. That’s by far the big one of the day after Rams-Ravens, Vikings-Packers, and Browns-Steelers have all lost their luster.  

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 2

I am trying to rationalize the ending of Chiefs-Ravens by thinking that this NFL season is just not going to make any sense. I’m not the only one struggling with my predictions. Favorites are just 10-21 ATS through Week 2, which would replace 2002 (10-20) for the worst start to a season for favorites in the 32-team era if the Packers can’t cover a big spread against Detroit on Monday night.

How likely are the Packers to do that when they lost 38-3 to a New Orleans team that just got pantsed by a Sam Darnold-led Panthers team? Again, uncertainty is very high right now. Let’s try to make some sense of these Week 2 results.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Ravens: We Have a Rivalry

I have been harping on the idea that the biggest story in the AFC these days, and maybe the whole NFL, is finding the worthy rival to the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have been the most logical choice with the team’s balanced, consistent success, but the Chiefs have continued to clean their clock by a wider margin each year since 2018. It’s not a real rivalry until the Ravens show they can win one of these games.

Well, it happened, and it happened in one of the most unusual ways for Baltimore. The 36-35 win is the first time in Jackson’s career that he won a game after trailing by 11 points, and the first time he won after trailing by multiple scores in the second half. He still did it his way too by rushing 16 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns while only making 26 throws. However, he had 239 yards on those 26 throws for one of the best passing games of his career.

Jackson was almost flawless in the fourth quarter, putting away the Chiefs with two touchdown runs and a run on 4th-and-1 from his own 43 with just over a minute left to deny Mahomes one more chance with the ball. The inevitability of his rushing from the quarterback position was a feeling I hadn’t had in a game since I watched Vince Young destroy USC in the 2005 Rose Bowl.

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. I will wait until I see the Chiefs play Justin Herbert and the Chargers next week before I make it my take, but I have serious doubts about the Chiefs having a defense that is capable of getting to a Super Bowl this year. Not everyone can run like Nick Chubb behind Cleveland’s line and this unique Baltimore rushing attack is the best in the league, but this run defense has been dreadful and the pass defense hasn’t been much better. They could see those teams again in January too.

Tyrann Mathieu’s season debut led to two picks and a pick-six in the first quarter, but he felt more like a liability in the final 45 minutes. No one seemed to be of any value after that as the Ravens were stopped once on their last seven drives. Jackson shaking off an ugly start and delivering is what made this one so different for Baltimore.

I hyped it up all summer. Would the Chiefs falter if the offense did not close the game out in the fourth quarter and the defense had to get the job done? This happened last week and the defense intercepted Baker Mayfield. But this time, the offense failed on three straight drives and so did the defense. The Chiefs blew their first fourth-quarter lead since the Tennessee loss in Week 10 of 2019.

Mahomes is 21-5 as a starter on the road and scored at least 31 points in every loss. But like the 31-9 Super Bowl loss, this game peels away another layer of invincibility around him. It was fun to say he’s never lost to the Ravens or lost a September game or thrown an interception in the month, but it all happened in this game, and it was all connected. Up 35-24 in the third quarter, Mahomes should have taken a sack on a third-and-12 at midfield, but he still tried to complete a pass (short of the sticks too) and it was intercepted. The Ravens turned that into a 56-yard touchdown drive. Just a bad mistake on a night where he had almost no others.

When he was down 36-35, Mahomes seemed to have another game-winning drive in the works by getting the ball to the Baltimore 32 on three passes. But the Chiefs dialed up a run and Clyde Edwards-Helaire continued his rough half with a devastating fumble with 1:20 left. We just went over something like this a week ago when Damien Harris of the Patriots coughed it up against the Dolphins. This was even later in the game though.

We can think of worse and bigger fumbles in NFL history, but there really is no point margin more agonizing to lose a fumble in the last two minutes than with a 1-to-2 point deficit. If you’re down 3, you lost that chance to tie or take the lead, and that’s a bummer. Ditto for being down 4-9. But you weren’t in position to win on a field goal there. In a tied game, it’s also a bummer, but at least you’re still tied after the turnover. This one just stings the most since the Chiefs were already in range, and despite having Mahomes, it seemingly hasn’t stopped Andy Reid from settling for a 45+ yard field goal in these situations. I understand why they ran, but you almost wish the Chiefs were down more points to incentivize them to keep the ball in Mahomes’ hands.

Stat of the night: Excluding kick returns, laterals, and quarterbacks taking strip-sacks, Edwards-Helaire’s fumble is only the third one by a skill player in opponent territory in the last 2:00 of a game while trailing by 1-2 points since 2001. The last player to do it was Denver running back Quentin Griffin in 2004 — incredibly on the same date (9/19) as CEH — in a 7-6 loss against Jacksonville. The only other “recent” example was when Reche Caldwell fumbled on a Drew Brees completion against the Chiefs in a 24-22 loss in 2002. That’s how rare this is as it is only the second one on a handoff.

Bumping the deficit up to three points only adds these five plays since 2001 (and no, I’m not sure what Brees and the Saints did to deserve to be on here so often):

  • 2019 Melvin Gordon (Chargers vs. Titans)
  • 2018 JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers vs. Saints)
  • 2018 Rashad Greene (Jaguars vs. Colts)
  • 2005 Reche Caldwell (again on a pass from Brees; Chargers vs. Eagles)
  • 2003 Deuce McAllister (Falcons vs. Saints; Atlanta fumbled ball back to Saints on same play; Saints won game in OT)

Still, because the Chiefs had all three timeouts, a stop was possible to get Mahomes the ball back. But on 4th-and-1 from the Baltimore 43 with 1:05 left, John Harbaugh asked Lamar if he wanted to go for it. Of course he did, as he should. From what I know about quarterback runs in short-yardage situations, he had to be at least 80% likely to convert there. If he converts, the game is over. If he doesn’t convert, then that is bad news as Mahomes would only need a first down to set up a reasonable field goal. So this was for the game, and I absolutely agreed with it as Baltimore needed to deliver that knockout punch and not trust the defense that has let them down so many times before in these moments. Not when you’re playing someone like Mahomes and he has a minute to set up the field goal.

If they called a pathetic play that didn’t work, then this would be a defining play of the season. But they called the smart play against a defense that couldn’t stop Lamar in the second half, and he delivered with the first down to ice it, making it a defining play of the season in a good way for Baltimore.

It’s a signature win for the Jackson era and should give the Ravens hope should they meet this team again in January. I’ll have to wait for the charting data to see if the Ravens dialed back their blitzing on Mahomes. It felt like they did, and they were smart to double team Tyreek Hill and limit him to 14 yards on three catches. Those big YAC plays for touchdowns to Travis Kelce and Byron Pringle could be defended better next time. It was a pretty loose offensive game with players on both teams running wild all over the field.

You can see how hard it is to still beat the Chiefs, but the cracks are starting to show with this team. In Mahomes’ last 12 starts, the Chiefs have one win by more than six points. That was Buffalo (38-24) in the AFC Championship Game. The Bills will get their next shot at the Chiefs on SNF in Week 5. If the Ravens can break through with a win, what about the Bills? What about the Chargers in Arrowhead next week?

This just may not be a waltz back to the Super Bowl for Kansas City after all.

Bad Afternoon for QB Injuries (MIA/CHI/HOU/IND)

While Week 1 could have been defined by underdog wins and a lot of bad fumbles, Week 2’s early afternoon slate was rocked hard by injuries, especially at the quarterback position.

Tua Tagovailoa left the game early for Miami, which turned into a 35-0 rout for the Bills. I don’t think that injury changed the outcome for the winner, but it was still a game that looked more like the 2019 Bills than the precise, efficient offense the team had with Josh Allen in 2020.

An Andy Dalton injury in Chicago gave way to Justin Fields, who did what most Chicago quarterbacks are used to doing: riding the defense to a win after Joe Burrow threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter in a 20-17 win by the Bears. While Fields failed to impress, it will be interesting to see if Dalton gets the job back again.

Tyrod Taylor was tearing up the Browns, one of his former teams, in the first half before injury took him out again. He won’t play Thursday night at the very least. The game was all Cleveland after that, so this was a real disappointing one as it seemed like Taylor was really making the most of this Houston opportunity. Poor guy can’t make it to October anymore.

The play-by-play for Texans-Browns had a whopping 10 mentions of a player being injured on a play. Taylor was not one of those, which just goes to show this is not a designation that can cover every injury that occurs in a game as sometimes they just don’t know which play did it. But 10 sure sounds like a game that was plagued by injury. Baker Mayfield barely got through it in one piece too, and it was Mayfield who took over for Taylor in Cleveland in 2018 when he was injured there.

Then there was the Rams-Colts game, which only listed one injury (Darrell Henderson) in the play-by-play list. But Carson Wentz did not finish this game after another injury. I would have loved to see what he would do in an ideal game-winning drive situation, down 27-24 with just over two minutes left and no timeouts. Instead, we got Jacob Eason, who promptly turned into Nathan Peterman and lobbed this one to Jalen Ramsey.

A rough day at the office. I’d say more about the Rams, but I plan to talk about them more during the week in the buildup for the game of the month between the Rams and Buccaneers. Let’s just say I think this close win in Indy takes a lot of the shine off this being a super team with Stafford, but it was a fine road win.

Saints at Panthers: WTF?

Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad about predicting mediocrity for the 2021 Saints. Any hope that the defense was going to morph into an elite unit without Drew Brees after what the Saints did to Aaron Rodgers last week quickly vanished after this 26-7 walloping at the hands of the Panthers, a team the Saints have owned for years.

That makes two weeks in a row the Saints had the real “WTF? game of the week” and now they were on the opposite end of the spectrum. I always had a lot of respect for Drew Brees, and I thought the shots some were taking about the Saints now having a deep ball because of one Jameis Winston touchdown last week were absurd.

I don’t remember Brees ever struggling to throw for 100 yards in New Orleans like Winston has in these first two games as the starter. It’s so weird too since Winston is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history at gaining passing yards. Is Sean Payton hiding him from throwing picks and it’s hurting their ability to produce as a legitimate offense? Supporters will cite COVID wiping out much of the offensive coaching staff this week, but it’s not like last week was a normal performance with the short fields. It’s not like the Panthers are some juggernaut, and they still had Payton there coaching this game.

The Saints were outgained by 255 yards. That only happened to Brees one time in New Orleans when he was outgained by 278 yards against Peyton Manning’s 2012 Broncos. A bit different than Sam Darnold’s Panthers. The 128 yards of offense were the worst for the Saints since the 2001 finale against the 49ers (126 yards). Really, it took two games after Brees retired to have a game almost 50 yards lower than his lowest game? (176 yards in Dallas in 2018).

I don’t know what to make of these teams yet. I need to see them play a normal game and a good opponent first.

Cowboys at Chargers: Dallas Wins Fake Low-Scoring Game

The streak is finally over. For the first time since the 2018 playoffs, the Cowboys won a game without scoring 30 points. Since beating the Seahawks 24-22 in the 2018 wild card round, the Cowboys were 14-2 when scoring at least 30 points and 0-18 when scoring fewer than 30 points. No other team in NFL history has ever had a two-year run like these Cowboys just had where 30 was such a magic number for them.

But even in pulling out a shorthanded 20-17 win in Los Angeles against the Chargers, the Cowboys still played in an offensively-driven game that only had 15 total possessions. One of Dallas’ eight drives was before halftime with three seconds left, and they nearly pulled out a miracle score. Since Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert only combined to throw 14 incompletions, and the Cowboys really got their running game to explode with 198 yards (109 from Tony Pollard), this was a fast-moving game with much better per-drive averages for the offenses. This is only the third non-overtime game in NFL history where both offenses had over 400 yards, but neither scored more than 20 points. The first two were 2012 Raiders-Browns and 2017 Buccaneers-Patriots.

The lack of possessions just made every mistake hurt more, such as the two picks from Herbert and the missed field goal. Herbert also had two touchdown passes taken away on penalties with the Chargers settling for three points on those drives, including a game-tying field goal with 3:54 left instead of a go-ahead touchdown. The officiating left a lot to be desired in this one.

Prescott made a lot of simple, short throws on the game-winning drive, and Mike McCarthy’s bunch did not handle the clock and situation the best they could have. Greg Zuerlein ended up coming out for a 56-yard field goal. But unlike some kickers this week, he only needed one attempt to drill it for the win with no time left.

Both teams are going to be a tough out for anyone this year, but both still seem like their own worst enemy at times.

Patriots at Jets: Weekly Zach Wilson Data Dump

When Zach Wilson threw his fourth interception on his 10th pass attempt of the day against the Patriots, I knew the Jets had their quarterback for the next 30 games. After all, what other franchise does a stat line like that remind you of? If it’s not the great Joe Namath or Richard Todd or Vinny Testaverde or Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick or Sam Darnold, what other franchise screams “four picks” like the Jets?

Last week I had Wilson in an unpleasant list of quarterbacks who took six sacks in their first start. Now I can add Wilson to this “yikes” list of the last 12 quarterbacks to throw at least four interceptions in their first or second start:

  • Nathan Peterman (2017)
  • Ryan Lindley (2012)
  • Brandon Weeden (2012)
  • Keith Null (2009)
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (2005)
  • Brooks Bollinger (2005)
  • Alex Smith (2005)
  • John Navarre (2004)
  • Henry Burris (2002)
  • Patrick Ramsey (2002)
  • Joey Harrington (2002)
  • Clint Stoerner (2001)

Now it’s been said that Bill Belichick has done this a lot to opponents. This is true. Belichick has absolutely won more games than anyone with a quarterback dinking and dunking and taking advantage of his opponent’s mistakes in easy three-score wins as Mac Jones demonstrated on Sunday.

Oh, but you were thinking about Belichick’s defense against rookie quarterbacks? Yes, there’s some truth to that too. Belichick is far from undefeated against rookies as he has lost notable games to Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009), Colt McCoy (2010), Russell Wilson (2012), Geno Smith (2013), and Tua last year.

But I was able to pull together the data on this, and instead of limiting it to rookies, I looked at inexperienced starters in general as quarterbacks who were making their 1st to 16th start of their NFL career. How do such inexperienced quarterbacks fare against Belichick relative to all other coaches since 2001? I made a graph with all 63 coaches with at least 15 such games through 2020.

Inexperienced quarterbacks have only won 18.5% of their games against Belichick from 2001 to 2020, going 15-66 in the process. Only Baltimore’s John Harbaugh (9-42, .176) has a better record. The 4.53 ANY/A for those quarterbacks against Belichick ranks him as the 14th-best coach in this sample of 63. Mike Zimmer (3-13 record, 3.65 ANY/A) has also been very impressive in this split.

Interestingly enough, two of the worst coaches against inexperienced quarterbacks were Jason Garrett (14-15 record, 5.98 ANY/A) and Adam Gase (9-9 record, 5.98 ANY/A). Jets fans should be glad that Gase is gone, but more afternoons like this from Robert Saleh (and Wilson), and it’ll start to feel like he never left.

Raiders at Steelers: Actually, Not the Same Old Steelers

(Note: If you’re not aware, the reason you get a more detailed Steelers game recap is because you can count on that being a game I watched in full each Sunday.)

I wish I can say the Steelers had another one of their whacky, unexpected losses to the Raiders on Sunday despite being a 6.5-point home favorite. The fact is the game was fairly normal and indicative of the kind of team Pittsburgh is when it does not have a good season. The Steelers upset Buffalo last week by getting contributions from all three units. While the special teams helped with a 56-yard field goal, a Heinz Field record, the offense was not good enough again and the defense struggled after its best player (T.J. Watt) left with a groin injury.

While I felt the Steelers used to lose to the Raiders by overlooking them and getting some bad bounces, this time it just felt like Pittsburgh was the inferior team heading in the wrong direction while maybe the Raiders are on the right path. With Josh Jacobs out, the Raiders had no problem in going one-dimensional and using Derek Carr through the air (382 yards) while not excessively targeting tight end Darren Waller after he had 19 targets on Monday night. Hunter Renfrow played very well on pivotal downs and Carr was money on the 61-yard bomb to Henry Ruggs that really made the difference in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh just failed to stack good plays. Carr got away with fumbles on consecutive plays before the Raiders settled for a field goal to begin the scoring. Melvin Ingram did his best to step up for Watt’s absence with a sack, but Carr simply converted the ensuing third-and-9 to Renfrow, which led to another touchdown in the third quarter. After the Pittsburgh offense answered with a fourth-quarter touchdown to make it 16-14, the defense folded again on third-and-10 on the Ruggs bomb to make it 23-14. The Steelers never touched the ball again with a one-score deficit.

The Pittsburgh offense is definitely stuck in what I call the post-Antonio Brown malaise that has been there since 2019 started, but this was very much a team loss and not about one unit over the other. Strangely enough, the quick/short passes are working this year for first downs and successful gains rather than the 1-yard gains on early downs and the pathetic failed completions on third-and-long that they seemed to always be last year. Ben Roethlisberger even hit a couple deep bombs in this game and got Najee Harris his first receiving touchdown on a 25-yard play.

So, what was the issue? Again, they’re not good enough to stack successes and score more points. Sometimes it’s Roethlisberger being off with his post-surgery arm strength not being good enough. Other times it’s Eric Ebron dropping a catchable ball on a third down after Roethlisberger shows some vintage escapability, like on the opening drive. Or it’s Diontae Johnson flat out giving up on a route when Roethlisberger threw one up on a third-and-long that was picked off. The running game with Harris and the new line just isn’t there yet either.

Finally, there is the coaching incompetency. While we saw the Ravens go for broke with a fourth down to put away the Chiefs on Sunday night, Mike Tomlin shriveled up again in a big spot. The Steelers faced a 4th-and-1 at their own 34 with 8:36 left and a 23-14 deficit. The defense had just given up five scores on the last seven possessions and could not be trusted. If the offense cannot be trusted to gain a yard, then how is this team ever going anywhere this year? Like in the playoff game against Cleveland, Pittsburgh punted on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter while down two scores. At least the defense got a stop this time, but after settling for the 56-yard field goal, the Steelers failed again on defense, allowing a 25-yard play to Waller that set up one more field goal and the 26-17 final. Johnson was then injured on a meaningless final play.

I think the Steelers will be 5-6 or 6-5 by the time December comes and they host Baltimore. But once the injuries pile up and that tough finish to the schedule arrives, the ground may be ready to crumble a la The Dark Knight Rises.

Then it may be time for fans to adopt the darkness to come.

Vikings at Cardinals: Another September MVP Campaign for Kyler Murray?

I knew Kirk Cousins (77.8) was going to finish this game with a higher QBR than Kyler Murray (65.5) once I saw him scramble for a 29-yard gain. QBR loves that stuff, and Cousins actually finished with more rushing yards (35 to 29) than Murray in this one. He also did not have a turnover while Murray threw two pretty bad picks, including one returned for a touchdown, that made this one a struggle for Arizona to win.

But which quarterback had the more impressive plays on the day? That was Murray, hands down. The best 5-foot-10 QB in NFL history made plays all over the field on his way to 400 passing yards and four more total touchdowns. He completed five passes of 25-plus yards to four different receivers.

Most games in NFL history with 360+ passing yards, 3+ passing TD, 1+ rushing TD:

  • 1. Aaron Rodgers – 5
  • 2. Drew Brees – 4
  • 3. Peyton Manning – 3
  • 3. KYLER MURRAY – 3
  • 5. Tom Brady – 2

When Murray is healthy, this offense is a lot of fun. Murray delivered on a key fourth down for 35 yards to set up Arizona’s go-ahead field goal. Cousins had two chances to answer, and on the last one, he did. The Vikings could have hurried to the line and ran another play with Dalvin Cook once they got to the Arizona 19 before calling their final timeout. However, they let the clock go down to four seconds before using that timeout.

Greg Joseph came out for the 37-yard field goal to win the game as the Vikings trailed 34-33. Vikings. Kicker. Game-winning field goal. You knew what was going to happen even before the ball was snapped. He missed it wide right, and the Vikings have an argument for the most painful loss of the young season. Go figure, Cousins, Mahomes and Mac Jones last week against Miami are the only three quarterbacks to lose after having a QBR above 70. That’s what a missed field goal or your teammate fumbling the game away in field goal range does.

As I pointed out in my preseason previews, the biggest moves for the Cardinals were getting Chandler Jones back on defense and a real kicker in Matt Prater. The Cardinals were the team last year that had several big misses in the clutch from their kicker. Prater made a huge 62-yard field goal before halftime in this one and he did not go Blair Walsh on the 27-yard game-winner. Sorry Vikings fans, I don’t know why your franchise is cursed at this position. But the Cardinals added a good one in Prater.

Titans at Seahawks: Regression vs. Regression

After piling up 33 points, 33 first downs, and 532 yards of offense, we can confirm that the Titans are still a fun and functional offense. Julio Jones showed out with 128 yards and Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns to lead a 15-point comeback in the second half and a 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks blinked first in the NFC West, which would be 8-0 right now as a division had the Seahawks hung on for this win. Seattle is no stranger to blowing big leads in the Pete Carroll era, but this has been unusual in recent years as Seattle has compiled such an unsustainable great record in close games since 2019.

But on Sunday, the Seahawks went from three straight touchdown drives in the second quarter to one score on their six drives in the second half. Third down was a weakness for the offense in 2020 and it happened again in this one. Seattle finished 4-of-12 on third down but failed on third-and-short twice in the second half. The Seahawks were going to go for a fourth-and-1 but were flagged for a false start, leading to a punt and game-tying touchdown drive for the Titans.

In overtime, I really thought Russell Wilson was sacked in the end zone for a game-ending safety, which wouldn’t be the first (or second) time Ryan Tannehill has won a game that way if you can believe it. Seriously, this could have been the third game-winning safety game he was involved in. But it was not to be, and despite the generous spot, Seattle punted from the 1, which gave the Titans the ball at the Seattle 39. Four Henry runs set up Randy Bullock to redeem himself with a 36-yard field goal for the stunning win.

That was only one yard shorter than the kick that Minnesota missed to give Arizona a win and 2-0 start. I don’t want to give Arizona much grief since it destroyed this Tennessee team in Week 1. But with the Rams about to host Tampa Bay and the 49ers not dominating teams, Seattle is still right up there in the division. Still, there is something stale with this team’s approach. The defense stopped being scary years ago. Wilson is still great, but he does seem to be relying a bit too much on the rainbows for big plays instead of doing more to sustain offense with longer drives (more third-down conversions).

But this was definitely the kind of comeback the Titans made a year ago, so they are still good at that. Still the favorites for sure in the AFC South.