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Audibles at the Line: Week 11

36 min read
Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we’re personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Dallas Cowboys 35 at Detroit Lions 27

Bryan Knowles:Picking up from last week, at least someone agrees with me that the Cowboys’ blue jerseys are cursed. The Lions are wearing white at home for the first time since November 1970, forcing the Cowboys into those navy blues.

Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, Zeke Elliott fumbles on the second play from scrimmage. Cuuuuurrrssed!

Bryan Knowles: And the first touchdown of the day comes from … Bo Scarbrough, playing in his first NFL game. So, without their starting quarterback and with a patched-together running back corps, the Lions strike first against the No. 4 DVOA Cowboys.


Bryan Knowles: OK, maybe they’re only cursed for a quarter. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Prescott just found Tony Pollard in the middle of nowhere, who juked and dashed his way 20 yards for a score to put Dallas up 10-7.

Bryan Knowles: A great punt return by Jamal Agnew sets the Lions up in Dallas territory. How will Jeff Driskel’s arm lead the Lions to paydirt? Well, it won’t. The Lions ran six plays — five rushes, and one play that was technically a sack for zero yards. Scarbrough is having a day in his NFL debut, up to 44 yards and a score on seven carries. Driskel fools everyone at the goal line, rushing in for the score to make it 14-10, Lions.

Bryan Knowles: Michael Gallup with one of the catches of the day, a bobbling, lunging grab while handfighting with the defender. That sets up a Zeke Elliott touchdown two plays later, and we’re going back and forth; 17-14 Dallas.

Vince Verhei: Dak Prescott hits Randall Cobb for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Detroit is flagged for a helmet hit, 15 yards, enforced on the kickoff. Brett Maher hits the extra point, but Detroit is flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, 15 more yards, also enforced on the kickoff. So, kicking off from the Detroit 35, they go ahead and try to kick onside, but Detroit recovers and kills the clock. Cowboys up 24-14 at halftime.

Bryan Knowles: Randall Cobb had a drop early (cuuuurrrrsed!) but just put up a huge drive He got wide open for a 49-yard reception, his longest as a Cowboy, and then scored two plays later, absorbing a hell of a shot but holding on to make it a 24-14 Dallas lead as we go to halftime.

Dak Prescott’s last two drives saw him go 7-for-8 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Just to compare, Zeke Elliott is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, with a long of 8 and a fumble. We all know passing is more effective than running, but you’d think a back with a huge contract like Elliott would be more involved in how his offense is doing. Not so much!

Bryan Knowles: The Lions come out after halftime and march down the field; 10 plays, 75 yards to cut the score back to 24-21 in the highest-scoring and most entertaining game of the early window so far. The big play to set up the touchdown was a 39-yard pass to Marvin Hall; catching big passes is all he does. That 39-yard catch actually lowers his yards per reception this season; all but one of his six receptions this year have come between 34 and 58 yards. He’s money in a very, very specific window.

Two plays later, Driskel hits Marvin Jones on the run, scrambling away from pressure to cut the lead to three.

Bryan Knowles: Dak Prescott isn’t as flashy as the Wilson/Jackson/Mahomes trio, but there’s a reason he’s second in DYAR and DVOA. Normally if you say someone’s playing like a rookie, that’s an insult, but Prescott has really found his 2016 form this year. He’s now up to 393 yards and three scores, as a screen to Zeke Elliott and the ensuing two-point conversion puts Dallas up 35-21 with eight minutes left, and that should just about put Detroit away.

Aaron Schatz: Yay, Detroit! They went for two down eight after scoring a touchdown. They didn’t get it, but it was the right move. The lessons of analytics continue to spread.

Dave Bernreuther: I saw only highlights but just wanted to pop in and say that the Cowboys looked fantastic in their proper navy jersey set AND beat their curse, so take that, Bryan.

Bryan Knowles: Bah, humbug.

Houston Texans 7 at Baltimore Ravens 41

Scott Spratt: Some early excitement in the Texans-Ravens game. A referee fell down on the first play and is being checked out. Could end up in concussion protocol.

Scott Spratt: Also some early actual game action as Matthew Judon forces a fumble on a strip sack of Deshaun Watson, Ravens recovering.

Scott Spratt: And then the unthinkable, Justin Tucker misses a 43-yard field goal attempt. They had just shown a graphic of how Tucker had the longest streak of makes under 50 yards. And he just missed an extra point attempt I think last week, so he’s having an unusual little slump here.

Scott Spratt: In shocking news, Marlon Humphrey blatantly interfered with DeAndre Hopkins on a deep pass in the end zone. It wasn’t called on the field, Bill O’Brien challenged it, and he lost.

Scott Spratt: Really interesting fake field goal try for the Ravens. The snapper snapped the ball to the holder Sam Koch who then shovel passed it to tight end Andrews. The Texans defense handled the trick very well, tackling Andrews for a loss and forcing the turnover on downs.

Aaron Schatz: So much for the offensive fireworks, at least through the first quarter. Lamar Jackson is only 1-for-6 and has been missing high. Deshaun Watson has been making his own pressure and holding onto the ball too long. Here’s a video of the fairly egregious missed DPI call against Marlon Humphrey that wasn’t overturned.

Vince Verhei: I had such mixed emotions about that Marlon Humphrey non-DPI. On the one hand, it was incredibly flagrant — his left arm hit Hopkins in the back, his right arm hit Hopkins in the arm, just before the ball got there, well within Hopkins’ catch radius. But it was fourth down, and Watson was just chucking it up in the corner and hoping for a foul, and I don’t want to see offense like that rewarded, especially not with something so rich as a first-and-goal at the 1. And I wonder if the Texans get that call if the play had been on first down.

No score in a sloppy game at the end of 1. Justin Tucker has doinked a field goal, and Baltimore had that weirdly called fake that didn’t work. Even Dan Fouts pointed out that Bill O’Brien was probably happy to see the field goal team running a play instead of Lamar Jackson. That said, Jackson has not been sharp, and Nick Boyle dropped a wide-open pass that would have gone for a big gain.

Scott Spratt: I guess throwing high is OK when Seth Roberts can elevate 10 yards in the air. Touchdown, Ravens. Ravens are up 7-0 early in the second quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Jackson turned his passing around after early struggles. Seven straight completions, the last one a beautiful strike over the middle to Mark Andrews in the end zone to make it 14-0.

Scott Spratt: Mark Andrews is good at catching touchdowns but bad at the Lambeau/M&T Bank Stadium Leap.

Scott Spratt: The Texans just went for a fourth-and-1 on their side of the field and converted it with a nice quick pass from Watson to beat the blitz. They really need points in the last 1:09 of the half down 14-0.

Aaron Schatz: Second quarter was all Baltimore. The Ravens are playing more man coverage against Deshaun Watson and he’s not taking advantage of it with scrambles except for one on third-and-10, that’s what led to going for it on fourth-and-1. Baltimore coverage is tight. Texans have just 3.3 yards per play in the first half. Their one drive ended with a missed field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn. 14-0 at halftime.

Bryan Knowles: Lamar Jackson, casually leading both teams in rushing yards and throwing three touchdown passes in what’s quickly becoming a stomp over the Texans, 21-0 at the start of the third. These teams are just in two entirely different tiers, even if Houston usually looks a little better than this.

Scott Spratt: Lamar Jackson just scrambled for 39 yards on a run that may have been more impressive than his Houdini play from last week. I counted five broken tackles. He just casually cut in and out of defender lines of attempted tackles. Amazing.

Vince Verhei: This may have been Jackson’s best run of the year, and think of the ground that covers.

Vince Verhei: I feel bad for the poor game charter tasked with tallying broken tackles for this game. The Texans have to be over a dozen by now. Noted YAC machine Mark Andrews slips a bunch for a 51-yard gain on third-and-16. Mark Ingram slips a tackle on a reception and goes into the end zone for a touchdown catch. Ravens up 34-0 as the day’s best game on paper has been by far the worst in reality.

Atlanta Falcons 29 at Carolina Panthers 3

Scott Spratt: The Falcons’ De’Vondre Campbell just made one of the most amazing interceptions I’ve seen. Kyle Allen threw a low pass to the right of the line to avoid being sacked, but Campbell got a hand on it no more than 5 yards in front of Allen. He tipped the ball to himself and secured a pick. The Falcons are now in the red zone already up 3-0 on the road.

Scott Spratt: Suddenly the Rams aren’t looking so dead in the NFC wild-card race. Kenjon Barner just returned a punt 78 yards for a score to put the Falcons up 10-0 on the Panthers, the same deficit the Vikings face to the Broncos.

Bryan Knowles: So, uh, the Falcons are beating the Panthers 17-0. Kyle Allen already has two interceptions, and he’s looking very much like the backup quarterback that he is. If Cam Newton really is moving on after this season, I’m not sure the Panthers can go in to 2020 with Allen as their only option, at the very least.

Maybe Eric Reid knows someone they can call.

Bryan Knowles: My Kyle Allen point stands, but the refs just overruled Atlanta’s touchdown, so it’s just 13-0, Atlanta. Tre Boston came in and made a great play to knock a clear touchdown to the ground. That helps Carolina’s day a little bit.

Scott Spratt: Not that Carolina is great — they’re 18th in DVOA. But even when they are good, they are weirdly incapable of beating the Falcons.

Scott Spratt: And there goes Kyle Allen throwing his second red zone pick today. Not great.

Scott Spratt: The broadcast just showed that 41 of 54 Falcons plays came in Panthers territory today. Yikes. Not an inspiring Panthers performance, but I’m curious if the Falcons might randomly be good now? Remember they smashed the Saints 26-9 last week in New Orleans.

Vince Verhei: So with back-to-back wins over playoff-contending teams by a combined score of 55-12, have the Falcons done enough to save Dan Quinn’s job? I was starting to doubt he’d even last the season. If they can keep these performances going, he might well be back next year.

Scott Spratt: Are you guys seeing this on the Red Zone Channel about Raheem Morris? Apparently he changed roles from the Falcons’ wide receiver coach to their defensive backs coach in Week 10, and since then, the Falcons have absolutely crushed on defense.

Tom Gower: They made the announcement about Morris’ move 13 days ago now. Jeff Ulbrich is calling some defensive plays, but Morris has a role there as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars 13 at Indianapolis Colts 33

Scott Spratt: Making his return from a broken collarbone that landed him on injured reserve, Nick Foles has started strong with five completions on six passes including a 34-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark.

Scott Spratt: Marlon Mack with a couple of nifty spin moves to punch in a 13-yard touchdown. Are we done with “He is Houdini” jokes?

Bryan Knowles: Oh, please let this stand — Quenton Nelson with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, followed by a keg-stand celebration. It’s under review, and do YOU want to be the one telling Nelson it didn’t count? I don’t think so.

Bryan Knowles: They called it back! Boooooooooooooo.

Bryan Knowles: It’s no offensive guard plunge, but Jacoby Brissett just scored on an RPO to extend the Colts’ lead to 24-7, as it turns out the Brissett-led Colts are significantly better than the Hoyer-led Colts. This one is more or less over as the third quarter ends.

I’ve been flipping to this game on occasion, and it seems that every time I look over, Nick Foles is underthrowing a receiver. This may be just a biased random sample, as Foles’ overall stats aren’t that bad (17-for-26, 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception), but he’s not exactly sparking the Jaguars’ offense. Maybe if he grew a mustache…

New Orleans Saints 34 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Scott Spratt: So much for having the No. 1 DVOA run defense and No. 1 DVOA defense against receiving backs. Alvin Kamara has 64 yards on 10 touches with three minutes still left in the first quarter.

Vince Verhei: After a Kamara punt return sets the Saints up just short of midfield, New Orleans still needs 13 plays and three third-down conversions to drive for a touchdown, but they get it done. Jared Cook finishes things with a sweet jumping grab in the end zone for the score. Saints have a 1-yard touchdown drive after Jameis Winston’s pass behind O.J. Howard; their other three drives have lasted 10, 12, and 13 plays. That’s 36 plays by New Orleans to only 10 for Tampa Bay. Besides the punt return, Kamara has over 80 yards from scrimmage already, still midway through the second quarter with the score 20-0.

Scott Spratt: The Saints have 20 points. Jameis Winston has 7 passing yards.

Vince Verhei: So after my Quick Reads piece about Chris Godwin and Mike Evans being a historically great pair of wide receivers, Winston of course hits a deep pass down the sideline to … Miller? Who the hell is Miller? Well, that would be sixth-round rookie Scott Miller, a 174-pounder who came into the game with a 31% catch rate. He burned another rookie, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, for what appeared to be a touchdown. On replay, however, Miller was down at the 1. It takes a couple of plays but Winston overcomes a second-down sack to hit Peyton Barber on a circle route for the touchdown. Saints still lead 20-7.

Vince Verhei: More of the same here as the Saints lead 27-17 at the end of three. Another long drive for New Orleans, 10 plays, ending in a field goal. Another big pass play for Tampa Bay, a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Godwin. Kamara’s over 100 yards from scrimmage, with 70-some yards on just a dozen carries. That’s the biggest news of this game, really.

Vince Verhei: Bucs punt after a fourth-down conversion is wiped out by an OPI call. Saints punt the ball back, but not before running eight plays and eating almost six minutes of clock. Up ten in the fourth quarter, that feels like a winning possession.

Bucs have only handed off four times all game, and they’re not likely to do it again.

Bryan Knowles: The NFL record for fewest carries in a game is six, which Tampa Bay is currently tying thanks to a pair of Winston scrambles. I do not know what the record for fewest HANDOFFS is; Tampa Bay may be in historic territory there.

Bryan Knowles: Tampa Bay won’t break the record for the fewest running back carries, at least; Minnesota had a four-handoff game last year.

Winston may break some kind of interception record, mind you; he just threw a pick-six to Marcus Williams as he continues to explore the space of all potential interceptions.

Vince Verhei: And there’s Winston badly overthrowing Mike Evans on fourth down and Marcus Williams getting a pick-six to put this on ice. Winston is badly limping during the runback, but he is still coming back out after the kickoff.

Vince Verhei: Winston threw another interception, this one on third-and-goal. Do a shot!

Denver Broncos 23 at Minnesota Vikings 27

Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure the Broncos could have scripted a much better opening quarter against Minnesota. The Vikings have gone three-and-out twice, while Denver started with a 51-yard field goal drive and followed it up with a 90-yard touchdown march, sparked by a 50-yard bomb to Courtland Sutton and a 24-yard pass interference on Xavier Rhodes, covering Sutton. Rhodes is having some real trouble covering Sutton, even if Sutton has just the one catch so far; he has been open a couple other times, Brandon Allen just hasn’t gone his way. That might change here going forward. 10-0 Denver, late in the first.

Bryan Knowles: When Andrew and I did our emergency quarterbacks review, we noted that Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton had a heck of an arm. And, in fact, we actually got to see it in action, as Sutton hit Tim Patrick for a 38-yard gain. At the end of one, Sutton has more passing yards than Kirk Cousins, more rushing yards than Dalvin Cook, and more receiving yards than any other Bronco or Viking. Heck of a day for him so far.

Bryan Knowles: Don’t write this one off juuuust yet. The Vikings have now scored touchdowns on back-to-back 75-yard drives. The latest one was an 18 yard death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts number — one 20-yard reception by Tyler Conklin, but mostly just 3-yards-and-cloud-of-dusting their way down the field, converting on fourth-and-1, third-and-14, third-and-10 via pass interference, and third-and-5. Dalvin Cook’s touchdown puts them down 10, and they go for two and fail. The announcers hate it, but that’s a pretty obvious decision in the fourth quarter. They don’t get it, so it’s 23-13 Broncos, but the decision was the right one.

Scott Spratt: The Broncos continue to find impressive ways to lose close games. Brandon Allen just threw three straight incompletions from the 4-yard line as time expired. Vikings hold on for the 27-23 win.

Bryan Knowles: Minnesota scored again, picking up touchdowns on all four of their second-half drives. The Broncos drove the ball back down into the red zone, but a questionable challenge by Vic Fangio meant they ran out of timeouts, only getting three quick pass attempts from inside the 5. They couldn’t get into the end zone. Minnesota comes back to win 27-23 after they looked toast in the first half. Not a pretty win, but they all count the same.

Vince Verhei: Oh, Denver bungled the clock at the end of this game. They had a third-and-5 at the 19 with 59 seconds to go. They completed a pass for 4 yards in bounds, then let 26 seconds run off the clock before calling their last timeout on fourth down. With 33 seconds left, Allen keeps the ball to convert the fourth-and-1 but is tackled in bounds. They’re about to snap the ball on first-and-goal with 10 seconds left when Minnesota calls timeout. The Broncos use those ten seconds to throw three incompletions, and the game ends. With better clock management, at the very least they would have had one more throw into the end zone. Realistically, they would have had enough time to call a run or two and give themselves a better chance of converting that fourth-and-goal play.

Tom Gower: I can’t believe how the Broncos handled their final drive against the Vikings. Vic Fangio used his next-to-last challenge at the two-minute warning to challenge pass interference on a second-and-6 incompletion, hoping to get the first down. The final timeout went before a fourth-and-1, where Denver left the clock tick and tick, finally calling it 26 seconds after their previous play ended. When the previous play was at :59, that’s significant. They ended up with only three shots at the end zone in goal-to-go after the clock didn’t stop after :33 until the Vikings called a timeout with 10 seconds left.

Buffalo Bills 37 at Miami Dolphins 20

Dave Bernreuther: Surprise onside! The Dolphins are playing to win. Love that.

Vince Verhei: With Tua Tagovailoa’s draft status suddenly in doubt, the Dolphins have apparently decided, screw it, we might as well win some games. They spot the Bills a 16–0 lead, partly built on the legs of Josh Allen, who’s over 40 yards on the ground in the first half. But then on third-and-4, Ryan Fitzpatrick hits Devante Parker for a 50-yard catch-and-run, setting up a 3-yard Kalen Ballage scoring run. And then Miami goes surprise onside, and the Bills are caught so off guard that kicker Jason Sanders is able to recover his own kick. That was one the best plays for Miami all season.

Scott Spratt: Wait, Vince, the kicker recovered his own kick? How is that even possible?

Bryan Knowles: He just kicked it straight forward 10 yards, and jumped on it himself. Buffalo didn’t have anyone right up the middle, broke back when the ball was kicked, and wasn’t able to turn around in time.

Kicking it to yourself might be the best way to do a surprise onside kick with the modern rules.

Zach Binney: Miami and Brian Flores continue to show a maddeningly inconsistent pattern of agression. Down 16, score a touchdown, but kick the extra point (which isn’t actually a terrible statistical decision at this point in the game, but not aggressive).

Then immediately a surprise onside, a perfect little dribbler from Jason Sanders that he proceeded to recover himself! I wonder if recovering your own onside or a game-winning field goal is cooler for a kicker.

Zach Binney: Yeah, Sanders’ kick bounced twice, and on the second one he just scooped it right up at about 10.5 yards. Just a pretty perfect kick, combines with the Bills not accounting for the possibility at all.

Vince Verhei: See for yourself:

Unfortunately the drive comes to an end one play later on what I thought was a horrible call. Fitzpatrick throws to Allen Hurns, who bobbles it and it’s incomplete. But Buffalo challenges and it’s ruled a catch, fumble, and Bills recovery. I have no idea how they could find indisputable visual evidence that the play was a catch.

Vince Verhei: Here’s a look at the Hurns “fumble.” Looks to me like he never gets clear possession. This looks to me like if it had been ruled a catch and fumble, it could have been changed to incomplete. They ruled the opposite.

Scott Spratt: To Bryan’s point, the kicker is the only member of the kicking team who can take a running start. So maybe that is the best way to approach the onside kick.

Bryan Knowles: Miami is having a special teams DAY. Not only did they recover the onside kick, they just returned a Buffalo kick 101 yards for a touchdown. A pretty good return, too, with actual weaving and cutting, not just one of those “run a billion yards up the sideline” things.

Scott Spratt: Well the Dolphins are 31st in offensive DVOA, 31st in defensive DVOA, and 26th in special teams DVOA. Special teams is clearly the team’s strength hehe.

Vince Verhei: There has been a lot of chatter this year about Carli Lloyd kicking field goals and whether she would be able to survive a tackle attempt in the NFL. Clearly, there’s no way her delicate frame could survive the catastrophic damage Stephen Hauschka suffered in his Herculean tackle attempt on that Grant kick return.

I should add that this was set up by an Allen touchdown pass to Dawson Knox. We’ve talked more about the Dolphins so far, but the Bills are still leading 23-14 at the end of a very eventful first half.

New York Jets at Washington Redskins

Bryan Knowles: Washington has scored a touchdown! It’s their first one since Week 6, the longest drought in the 21st century. They’ve got momentum back!

It’s 34-11, Jets.

Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Oakland Raiders 17

Derrik Klassen: Ryan Finley coughs up a strip-sack to give the Raiders the ball already within field goal range. I get the Bengals wanting to evaluate their young players, but man, Finley was a mid-round pick anyway. How is having him out there really more valuable?

Scott Spratt: Finley gets a reprieve for that fumble, though Derrik, because Josh Jacobs fumbles right back in the red zone.

Scott Spratt: Wow, that Joe Mixon touchdown was apparently the Bengals’ first on a running back carry all season.

Derrik Klassen: And, yeah, of course after I question having Finley in, the Raiders give the ball right back and the Bengals march down the field for a touchdown.

Vince Verhei: That play was hysterical. Mixon actually ran 20 yards or more on his 3-yard run, taking a pitch to the right but then cutting all the way back to the middle of the field.

Bryan Knowles: Cincinnati misses a field goal at the end of the first half, and Jon Gruden runs into the locker room.

Unfortunately, there are four seconds left, so Gruden has to make a walk of shame back to the field to call for the kneeldown.

Vince Verhei: That missed field goal came after Randy Bullock was good from 53, but Gruden had iced the kicker. So he was probably just overcome with pride. I mentioned this on Twitter last week, and I still think it’s a good idea: icing the kicker should be a 5-yard penalty. Would anyone complain about that?

Raiders’ first three drives were two punts and the Jacobs fumble, but Derek Carr pulled things together and led a pair of long touchdown drives, throwing for one score and running for another. He’s 14-of-15 for 151 yards — your prototypical efficient-if-not-explosive Carr performance.

Vince Verhei: Raiders lead 14-10 at the end of three and you can’t blame them for being nervous. Their offense was a negative that quarter, with two punts and a bad Carr interception (he didn’t see Jessie Bates in the middle of the field, and Bates jumped a Hunter Renfrow slant route for the pick) that led to a Bengals field goal. Bengals have done about nothing when they had the ball — indeed, they’re punting again here early in the fourth — but they have officially reached “hanging around” stage. That Jacobs fumble is looming large right now.

Vince Verhei: Raiders take that punt and drive into the red zone. They get a fourth-and-1 at the 5, and Alec Ingold converts on the fullback dive for a first-and-goal at the 1. A false start pushes them back, however, and after Carr completes a pass short of the goal line on third down, they end up kicking a field goal anyway. It’s a 17-10 lead with nine minutes and change left.

Vince Verhei: Auden Tate has been Cincinnati’s top receiver today, and he just picked up a 20-yard gain on third-and-19 to give Cincinnati a first down in Oakland territory. Unfortunately he took a shot to the head and was strapped to a backboard and carted off. Mixon ran for 6 yards on first down, but then three straight pass plays produced zero total yards and a fourth-down incompletion. Raiders still have to kill five-plus minutes.

Bryan Knowles: Cincinnati loses, and that means they are officially the first team eliminated from playoff contention. We all had the Dolphins being that team in September, but the Bengals quietly plugged away, and pulled out defeat from the jaws of victory.

Derrik Klassen: Well, I guess my point about Ryan Finley ultimately rang true despite that one (unbelievably timed) drive. If the point is to the secure No. 1 overall draft pick under the guise of “evaluating young talent,” then they are certainly on track, but the idea that Finley allows for anyone in this offense to be evaluated (aside from Finley himself) when he is on the field is just irresponsible.

Vince Verhei: The Bengals actually did get the ball back at their 20 with nearly two minutes left, a very winnable situation. But on first down Finley was sacked, and on second down he threw an interception to a well-covered receiver deep downfield, and that’s that.

This is one of those games where you look at the box score and ask “how did Oakland only score 17 points?” Jacobs’ fumble was a big part of that, but they had a ton of yards and first downs, and they didn’t miss any field goals. Not sure why all those yards were so useless.

Arizona Cardinals 26 at San Francisco 49ers 36

Bryan Knowles: Story of the game so far has been pass interference. Arizona got a rare pass interference called via replay to set up a field goal, and then another pass interference brought the ball inside the 10 to set up a touchdown, as they jump out to a 9-0 lead (they missed the extra point).

Vince Verhei: Perhaps motivated by that nine-point deficit, San Francisco goes for it on fourth-and-5 at the Arizona 40 on their second possession of the game. Raheem Mostert gets a step on Haason Reddick on a wheel route for what should be a big gain and Jimmy Garoppolo drops a perfect pass into the basket, but Mostert also drops that perfect pass to the turf.

But San Francisco is going to get the ball back because Arizona drops passes too — Christian Kirk drops what would have been a third-down conversion at the edge of field goal range, though at least he had the excuse of crossing from shadow to sunlight and probably lost the ball.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers are very, very flat today. On offense, I think it’s fair to blame that on George Kittle missing another game, but that means the 49ers’ defense has been on the field most of the day, and Kyler Murry can run them ragged. The Cardinals have run 32 plays for 166 yards; the 49ers, 10 plays for 2. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Cardinals are up 16-0 midway through the second.

Vince Verhei: Guys, I think I’m falling in love with Kliff Kingsbury. Fourth-and-1 at the SF 34, they run a play-action pass out of — seriously — I-formation, and Kyler Murray hits Darrell Daniels for his first catch of the year and a conversion. Next play, Murray fakes two handoffs and takes off down the sideline for a big game. May have been an option play, but as quick as Murray got to the outside, and with the blockers he had in front of him, I’d guess it was a designed sweep all the way. That sets up a bubble screen touchdown for Pharoh Cooper and a 16-0 lead.

Since halftime of Monday night, San Francisco has now been outscored 36-14, in just over 60 minutes of game time.

Bryan Knowles: In the time it takes for the New England/Philadelphia interception/touchdown to be reviewed, the 49ers go 75 yards for a touchdown, as they’ve decided to start playing football this week. Big play was a 57-yard screen to Richie James, where the 49ers had six blockers for just two Cardinal defenders on that side of the field. That’s a schemed big play, not a great effort by the players. After a couple ugly passes, Jimmy G does find Ross Dwelley in the end zone to make it 16-7.

Bryan Knowles: 16-10 Cardinals at the half. The 49ers had a second touchdown to Dwelley, but that was called back by penalty, so they kick a field goal instead.

Yellow hankies have been everywhere this game. Not just the five defensive pass interference calls already (three on Sherman!), but 11 overall, giving both teams plenty of first downs. It’s getting a little ridiculous, and while a few have been a bit borderline, others are just sloppy play, especially on Arizona’s part (back-to-back offsides! Good lord).

Doug Farrar on twitter made a very interesting comparison. The 49ers offense without Kittle is basically what we saw in Los Angeles last year when the Rams lost Cooper Kupp; teams were able to start keying away from misdirection, and the offense sputtered. The Kupp-less Rams were better than the Kittle-less 49ers just on a pure talent basis, but the dropoffs are very similar. Here’s hoping Kittle returns for the Green Bay/Baltimore/New Orleans run, just from a competitiveness point of view. As it is, the 49ers have woken up from their sluggish start, so we’ll see if they can keep that going in the second half.

I still am very impressed with Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray, and the Cardinals’ offense. They are going to be good sooner rather than later, and even if 2019’s still more or less a wash for them, I’d have optimism for the future if I were a Cardinals fan. I was really, really pessimistic on both the Kingsbury hire and the Murray pick, and I was flat-out wrong.

Vince Verhei: Impressive job by the 49ers responding to their deficit. Their first touchdown was something of a gift on the blown coverage on James’ screen play, but there was nothing fluky about their second drive, which covered 55 yards in 11 plays. Unfortunately for them, Dwelley’s second touchdown of the day was wiped out by a holding penalty. And I really hated the give-up draw on third-and-18 from the 24, but Chase McLaughlin bailed them out and hit the 43-yard field goal. Cards still lead 16-10, but the 49ers are getting the ball to start the second half and are in OK shape, all things considered.

Bryan Knowles: Make it a third score for Ross Dwelley, albeit only the second one that counts. The flags kept comin’ on the 49ers opening drive — an illegal block on the kickoff, roughing the passer, false start, illegal shift — but in between the penalties, the 49ers do eventually find a way to get back into the end zone and take their first lead of the day.

Vince Verhei: Your reminder that Arizona came into the game with a 40.6% DVOA against tight ends, giving up 85.8 yards per game, both the worst in the NFL (subscription required).

Aaron Schatz: We just had our sixth DPI in the ARI-SF game. No other game this year had more than five DPIs.

Vince Verhei: You think that’s something, wait until —


Bryan Knowles: These officials are not covering themselves in glory. That pass interference should, if anything, have been OFFENSIVE pass interference, as Kyle Juszczyk basically tackled the Cardinals linebacker. And, to make up for it, they called a phantom holding call on Weston Richberg, the third ticky-tack holding call on the 49ers today. They’re being bad for both sides!

Bryan Knowles: And, of course, that’s followed up by the now iconic Terrible Jimmy Garoppolo red zone Interception. He’s contractually mandated to throw at least one of those per game.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, boy, the sixth DPI in the SF-ARI game was awful.

Vince Verhei: Also avoiding glory: Jimmy Garoppolo. Third-and-5 in the red zone, he throws a pick right to Jordan Hicks, who returns it to midfield. Third quarter’s not even done yet, and we’re up to nine penalties accepted on each team. Ninety-nine yards on Arizona (there’s a Jay-Z joke in there) and 122 on the 49ers. EIGHT first downs and counting by penalty.

Carl Yedor: That interception was massive for Arizona. San Francisco looked poised to really take control of the game with a touchdown there, but instead the Cardinals have the ball at midfield.

Bryan Knowles: Arizona just gets a field goal out of the interception, so the 49ers get a chance to march back down the field. Deebo Samuel made an amazing 26-yard catch, snagging it off a players’ back as he was getting clobbered to the ground. He may not have come down in bounds, but it would have been (yet another!) DPI, so the catch was allowed to stand. Then it became the Kyle Juszczyk show, as the 49ers ran a couple of fullback screens in a row, with the Cardinals biting each time, before Garoppolo hit Bourne in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The two-point conversion, however, had no chance — it looked like someone was supposed to leak out to the left, and no one actually did — so it’s just a 23-19 lead for the 49ers, early in the fourth.

Bryan Knowles: Kyler Murray is a problem! He just ran for a 22-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper, on a drive where he had already run out of trouble a half-dozen times. And because the 49ers went for two and failed earlier, it’s now a three-point Arizona lead, 26-23.

Bryan Knowles: Another Jimmy G interception. A high throw, behind Ross Dwelley — he was able to get a hand on it, but only to tip it into a Cardinals hand. And now, the Cardinals are one long drive away from pulling off the upset!

Vince Verhei: 49ers had 87 yards rushing against Seattle on Monday night, their lowest output of the year. They’re currently at 14 carries for 19 yards with less than five minutes left in the game. And with Garoppolo being intercepted again, they’re not likely to add much more. We can talk about the penalties and Garoppolo’s gaffes and Kittle and Sanders injuries, and that’s all relevant, but let’s not overlook this outrageous effort by the Arizona run defense.

Bryan Knowles: Arizona held the 49ers to 101 yards two weeks ago, too, so it’s not like this is a one-game thing. Though, all those three games did come in a row…

Bryan Knowles: No interception this time, as Garoppolo is now up to 422 yards and four touchdowns to go along with his two terrible interceptions. After a tight, tight conversion on third-and-3 (I think he was close enough, but it could have gone either way), Garoppolo hits a wide-open Jeff Wilson for a 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run. They have a four-point lead, but they may have scored too soon; there are 31 seconds left, and Arizona has all three timeouts.

Carl Yedor: As the 49ers get to the edge of field goal range, Arizona dials up a blitz to try to put some pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo. That backfired. Running back Jeff Wilson runs straight up the seam out of the backfield and Garoppolo hits him for the go-ahead score with 31 seconds to go. 30-26 49ers, and Kyler Murray gets one last shot with three timeouts.

Bryan Knowles: Scratch that Murray shot — the first play of the two-minute drill ends up with a fumble, and the 49ers fall on top of it. Arizona does have all their timeouts, but that should end this one.

Carl Yedor: So much for that. Arizona fumbles on the first play of the drive and this one’s over barring a miracle.

Bryan Knowles: Kyler Murray gets the ball back for one more play, and they try the zillion-lateral play, but the 49ers end up with the ball. It’s ruled a defensive touchdown initially, which matters — the 49ers closed as 10-point favorites, and the touchdown gets them to ten. And Cardinals bettors scream.

New England Patriots 17 at Philadelphia Eagles 10

Aaron Schatz: Patriots are really dialing up the screens today. Seems pretty clear they are afraid their offensive line can’t hold up against the Eagles’ pass pressure. Today should be the last game of Marshall Newhouse as left tackle with Isaiah Wynn coming back next week.

Tom Gower: I wonder just how much the wind is affecting what the teams are trying to do. Eleven minutes into the game, Carson Wentz has four completions for 20 yards to go with the Patriots’ screen-heavy game plan and at least one of Wentz’s throws downfield was very off target. Winds are apparently strong and sometimes swirling, so it just might be one of those days. I’d still look for seam throws potentially, but this seems like a screen/short-pass game for both teams. And the Eagles just ran another screen to Dallas Goedert as I was finished up this email.

Aaron Schatz: New England is not getting much pressure today, even when they blitz. They just finally got pressure only to see Wentz scramble for 7 yards.

Scott Spratt: So was that a Dallas Goedert touchdown catch or Jonathan Jones interception in the end zone? I could see it going either way depending on when the hypothetical process of completing a catch happens.

Aaron Schatz: Tight play, but Goedert made a couple of steps after catching it and I think he was clearly down in the end zone before Jones took the ball away. I think the officials made the right call to reverse and give Philadelphia the touchdown. So now it’s 10-0 and the Patriots offense needs to wake up.

Vince Verhei: I think they got it right on replay: Goedert touchdown. He’s on his ass in the end zone with both hands on the ball. Jones also has both hands on the ball, but tie goes to the receiver.

Bryan Knowles: It was a touchdown, and I’m surprised the officials agree with me.

Scott Spratt: Oh man, kicker Jake Bailey had a chance to recover a fumble on the kickoff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen. Sadly, it bounced off his chest and out of bounds, which also means the Eagles retain the ball on offense.

Scott Spratt: I was thinking about commenting that I don’t remember Mohamed Sanu returning punts in Atlanta, and now he just got rolled up on for the Patriots. Unclear if he’s going to be able to return on offense. Seems odd that he would be doing that even with Gunner Olszewski out this week.

UPDATE: OK, Sanu is back in, so injury avoided.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots finally get a good offensive drive, making it down inside the 10. Then you get a couple of drops — Rodney McLeod drops an interception that Brady just gifts him, and then Edelman drops a sure touchdown in the back of the end zone. Patriots kick a 22-yard field goal after failing on third-and-goal. 10-6 Patriots. Eagles pass rush is still making life very tough on Brady.

Tom Gower: Inside the final two minutes of the first half, Wentz found Nelson Agholor for an 11-yard completion that probably featured simultaneous possession on a throw outside that was too far inside. That remains the Eagles’ only completion 10 yards or more downfield. I don’t know how much to credit the wind versus the Patriots pass defense, but either way, there’s been nothing there down the field since the early mega-pass interference call on Jason McCourty.

Bryan Knowles: We linked Scramble’s Emergency Quarterback review earlier. At the time, we noted that New England basically has an emergency quarterback depth chart, with Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Myers, and Julian Edelman. This time, it’s Edelman who gets the opportunity, finding Phillip Dorsett in the end zone to give the Patriots the lead!

Carl Yedor: Patriots came out of halftime and made effective use of tempo on their opening drive, ultimately leading to a trick-play touchdown pass from Julian Edelman to Phillip Dorsett. Rex Burkhead also picked up 30 yards on a screen pass after breaking a tackle in the backfield as well. A James White two-point conversion makes it 17-10 Patriots.

Dave Bernreuther: Sometimes the Philly fans aren’t wrong to boo. On third-and-10, Travis Kelce fails to (or Wentz fails to ask for him to) snap the ball to earn a free play when an end jumped offsides, and then Wentz fires a very quick release pass, under no pressure, for 5 yards. It wasn’t a route designed for YAC either, nor were they in field goal range. So immediately after falling behind to a Patriots team known for adjusting at halftime, the Eagles go meekly and punt, and given the ease of that last drive for the Patriots, they may find themselves down two scores before I finish typing.

Dave Bernreuther: … or the Patriots will go three-and-out and punt it right back. I stand by my criticism of the failure on third down though.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots pressure has ramped up after the early part of the game, and they just got their fifth sack of the game with 20 minutes left. Eagles definitely miss Lane Johnson at right tackle, who went out of this game with an injury.

Aaron Schatz: Just as the Patriots pass rush has been better in the second half, the Eagles pass rush has not been as good. I think the Patriots going to hurry-up helps, and the Eagles defense looks a bit tired. They did get off the field, though, with the help of a holding call that led to first-and-20, and then in turn to third-and-10 where Julian Edelman had to turn into a defensive back to prevent a deep interception by Avonte Maddox. Eagles ball, 17-10, 10:04 left.

Aaron Schatz: A couple of big plays there by the Eagles on their next-to-last drive, especially the first play where Carson Wentz escaped the pass rush in the end zone and completed for 29 yards to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. There was also a nice third-and-10 to an open Nelson Agholor. But eventually the Eagles sputtered out on fourth down. Patriots go three-and-out as the Eagles use all their timeouts, leaving the Eagles with 35 seconds and most of the length of the field to go. Game ends with a Hail Mary attempt that fails. 17-10 Patriots. Another great game for the defense, which ended up allowing less than 4 yards per play. An awful game for the Patriots offense, which barely got 4 yards per play and looked like it was addicted to 2-yard runs on first down for the entire first half.

Carl Yedor: Philadelphia puts together a pretty good drive inside the two-minute warning but stalls out as it approaches the red zone. The Patriots bring another Cover-0 blitz that forces Wentz to chuck it up and hope on fourth down. Nelson Agholor had a chance to haul it in, but it would have been an incredibly difficult catch given that he had to contort his body backwards as he was falling to the ground in order to make the play. The Eagles get the ball back thanks to their timeouts as the Patriots try to run out the clock, but they are pinned so far back after the punt that Wentz’s Hail Mary only reaches the 5 before it’s knocked away. New England pulls out the win with another great display from the defense, 17-10. The Patriots offense could not get a ton going today, but Philadelphia was consistently facing long fields, as their best starting field position of the second half was at their own 26. After New England’s touchdown to start the second half, the two teams traded five punts each before the Eagles’ penultimate drive that ended with the Agholor deep ball. New England finishes their tour of the NFC East next week against Dallas while the Eagles have a matchup with the Seahawks that was recently flexed out of prime time.

Chicago Bears 7 at Los Angeles Rams 17

Carl Yedor: The night game has been pretty dull thus far. The Bears, in a very on-brand manner, have missed two field goals, and the Rams have turned the ball over twice via a Todd Gurley fumble and a Jared Goff interception. Nagy, probably because he doesn’t trust his kicker, went for it on fourth-and-9 at the 31 before attempting a field goal (which missed) on a fourth-and-6 from slightly closer. Trubisky had Tarik Cohen running deep down the sideline on a third down but underthrew him, and Goff had a very bad interception, shown in this NextGenStats visualization:

Remind me why this game didn’t get flexed out of prime time again? Houston-Baltimore turned out to be a blowout, but on paper that matchup definitely felt like it would be more exciting than what we’ve seen thus far. Then again, at this point in the Texans-Ravens game, it was still only 7-0, so maybe this one has some more juice in it.

As I’m typing this, Mitchell Trubisky gets in on the fun and throws a pick. The offenses have not been sharp tonight.

Bryan Knowles: I presume the reason the game didn’t get flexed is because of the second- and third-largest markets in the country, plus the fact that I imagine CBS protected Patriots-Eagles (the other obvious ratings grab game).

But yeah, there shouldn’t be a game this poor on Sunday Night this late into the season; no excuse.

Tom Gower: CBS protected Patriots-Eagles, and with the Texans playing on (this coming) Thursday night, they weren’t really a candidate to be flexed. TNF is a short enough window anyway.

This first 30 minutes of Chicago offense was, at least, better than last week’s first 30 minutes of Chicago offense, unless you’re a fan of hilarious ineptness. This week they actually got in position enough for Eddy Pineiro to miss a couple of field goals even on drives that didn’t start in L.A. territory after an awful Jared Goff interception. Progress, of a sort, though I wonder if Matt Nagy was just too resigned to try to force the Rams to punt at the end of the half, taking his three timeouts with him rather and depriving us of a potential fair catch kick opportunity. Some of us care deeply about that kind of thing, you know.

Aaron Schatz: Sorry I haven’t had a chance to pay much attention to this game but it seems like every time I look up, Mitchell Trubisky is throwing the ball to nobody.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I’m sorry, now the Bears have pulled Trubisky with three minutes left and they’re going to let Chase Daniel try to engineer a comeback, or at least cover the spread.

Tom Gower: The Rams after taking a lead seemed to approach this game like the only way they could lose was if they turned the ball over. Cooper Kupp’s fumble that would have given the Bears the ball in scoring possession was not lost, and the Bears didn’t come close to getting a score after the touchdown to cut it to 10-7 to start the second half. There’s plenty you can say about that perspective, and one of them is that it turned out to be correct. This here’s the NFL, so validation by success means it was genius!

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