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Audibles at the Line: Week 13

38 min read
Audibles at the Line: Week 13

compiled by Andrew Potter

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

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

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a 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.

Philadelphia Eagles 31 at Miami Dolphins 37

Dave Bernreuther: Greetings from southeastern Pennsylvania, where this Miami resident is lucky enough not to have to watch the woeful Dolph — ah, crap. I just can’t get away from the Fitzmagic.

Which is off to a brilliant start, as he throws an interception — and a really, really bad one — on the very first pass of the game. Carson Wentz and the Eagles, who have thus far resisted the urge to seize the NFC East that the Cowboys seem desperate to give away, are set up in scoring range with a mere ten seconds off of the clock.

The Eagles fans around me are naturally all wondering just how they’ll screw this one up.

Bryan Knowles: You’re 2-9, you’re down 10 points, so there’s no reason to play conservative. On a fourth-and-4 from the Eagles 43, Ryan Fitzpatrick finds DeVante Parker deep — tight coverage, but Parker brings it in for the score. 10-7 Eagles; it’s possible no one wants to win the NFC East.

Bryan Knowles: You have to see the Dolphins’ touchdown. Punter-to-kicker for a touchdown is rare enough, but look at this formation!

Aaron Schatz: Dolphins just hit a great fake field goal. They motioned to have the punter/holder at quarterback with nobody else in the middle of the field except the center. Half the Dolphins were lined up on one side, half on the other side. The punter Matt Haack starts going like he’s going to run a sweep, and nobody covers the kicker Jason Sanders as he sneaks into the end zone. Haack just flips it to him for a touchdown.

The whole thing was set up by a challenged defensive pass interference call in the end zone, where Brian Flores threw the red flag and actually got the refs to reverse a play and add a DPI to a pass to Parker.

Dave Bernreuther: Insanity alert: After a horrible non-call DPI was overturned, the Dolphins special teams come out in a formation that’s even crazier than the swinging gate. One center, one “quarterback,” and everyone else off on the sidelines. Matt Haack runs left into what looks to be certain doom … but it was by design, and then he shovels it to a completely uncovered Jason Sanders for the touchdown.

That. Was. AWESOME.

Zach Binney: I have to guess Flores took that from Bill Belichick, who presumably dreamed it up as a non-stupid version of the swinging gate punt from the Colts?

That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen AND I LOVE IT.

Vince Verhei: Matt Haack has now thrown as many touchdowns as Josh Rosen this year.

Bryan Knowles: Miami goes surprise onside kick to open the second half. It doesn’t work; perhaps Atlanta’s performance on Thanksgiving made people forget how hard onside kicks are to recover nowadays. Philadelphia coverts the great field position into a touchdown, taking a 28-14 lead early in the third. Game’s not quite over yet, but you can see over from here.

Bryan Knowles: Well, hold on. Miami scored a touchdown on each of their drives after the failed onside kick, and now trail just by two. Does anyone actually want to win the NFC East?

Bryan Knowles: Make that touchdowns on THREE consecutive drives, as the Dolphins take the lead. A Cincinnati win doesn’t hurt as much if Miami and Washington both win!

Vince Verhei: Jason Sanders just hit a 51-yard field goal to put the Dolphins up 37-28 in the fourth quarter. So, two questions. A) We can just make Sanders the special teams player of the week now, right? B) What’s the record for shortest time a coach was fired after winning the Super Bowl? I guess Jimmy Johnson was fired before the next year even started, but that was a personality conflict. Doug Pederson’s performance has been so poor, there would be calls for his head if he had not won that ring.

Vince Verhei: Dolphins running backs currently have 12 carries for 21 yards, 11 of them on one play. Fitzpatrick has been shredding the Eagles with no kind of run support.

San Francisco 49ers 17 at Baltimore Ravens 20

Bryan Knowles: In a world with flexed schedules, Baltimore-San Francisco should not be one of eight games on television in an early window, but eh, that’s where we are. Plenty of rain today, so that’ll be something for which to keep an eye out — some sloppy conditions could lead to some sloppy play. Deebo Samuel had a ball bounce of his hands, for example, in something that seemed destined to lead to the Contractually Mandated Jimmy Garoppolo interception, but it ended up just falling incomplete. Two plays later, the 49ers faced fourth-and-2 from the Baltimore 33, and decided hey, you don’t beat the Ravens with field goals. Garoppolo threw the ball to Samuel in double coverage, and he managed to bump the defender out of the way and come down with a pretty astounding catch. 49ers draw first blood, but now the REAL matchup starts, as Lamar Jackson takes the field against the 49ers defense. Popcorn time.

Vince Verhei: San Francisco’s first touchdown was a case of bad process, good results for Jimmy Garoppolo. He had Deebo Samuel open down the right sideline against what looked like Cover-2. His pass was badly underthrown, bringing Samuel back right into Marcus Peters, playing the deep zone coverage. But it looked like Peters misread the ball and almost ran right past Samuel, letting the receiver make the catch in traffic and go into the end zone.

Aaron Schatz: That was Marcus Peters as the main defender on Samuel. Peters presents an interesting dilemma. He’s a massive outlier when it comes to interceptions but he’s also clearly the weakest of the Ravens’ cornerbacks in coverage when it comes to success rate and yards per pass.

Vince Verhei: Really, that’s Peters’ whole career, isn’t it? Never especially good at shutting down receivers, but outstanding at interceptions and runbacks. He’s like DeAngelo Hall that way.

Dave Bernreuther: I *hated* how Peters played that. The ball was horribly underthrown and should have been picked, but Samuel managed to box Peters out, which wasn’t that hard because Peters seemed a little bit lost, as if he didn’t know where the ball was. Which is odd for a ballhawk. He looked almost like his main concern was trying not to get flagged for DPI.

Bryan Knowles: Jimmy Garoppolo is diversifying his skillset. Rather than throwing a terrible interception, he instead makes a terrible fumble. He just held on to the ball forever against the Ravens pass rush, ran out of time, and had the ball knocked out as the pressure got to him. Two plays later, Jackson finds Mark Andrews up the middle to tie the game at seven.

Aaron Schatz: Earl Thomas blitz on third-and-4. They’re blitzing him a lot more in Baltimore than Seattle ever did. Pass to Emmanuel Sanders was a yard short so the 49ers will punt instead of going on fourth-and-1 from their own 39.

Aaron Schatz: San Francisco was No. 1 in DVOA against tight ends going into today’s games (subscription required) but between the presence of Lamar Jackson forcing the 49ers to play in zone and the play-action fakes bringing up the linebackers, the Ravens have completed a couple of big passes to tight ends already.

Scott Spratt: I’m not sure any numbers you give up to the Ravens should count against your DVOA this year. They just can’t capture how your defense should be expected to play against normal offenses in the future.

Scott Spratt: That Lamar Jackson cut just completely uncleated K’Waun Williams. Ridiculous.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers keep crashing the edges on Jackson. This is the right strategy against a lot of mobile quarterbacks; it’s probably not the right strategy against Jackson, who can make people look absolutely ridiculous in the backfield. The Ravens’ recent scoring drive had Jackson run for 11, 7, 11, and a 1-yard touchdown. Yeah, the drive was extended by roughing the passer, but they probably would have gone for it on fourth anyway. Ravens take the 14-7 lead, as Jackson is just … I mean, he’s crazy good.

Dave Bernreuther: I’m not sure we’d just want to throw DVOA *entirely* out the window when it comes to the Ravens, Scott, but yeah, it’s definitely an offense that requires some additional thought. (Which is also true for opposing coordinators…)

One thing we can all agree on: we should all be very grateful that Chris Berman retired before Lamar Jackson came along. Imagine how annoying the high-pitched “WHAT!” squeak would be for every move he makes like the juke he put on K’Waun Williams in the backfield on an option keeper (which Nick Bosa bought enough to flat-out tackle Mark Ingram) or the naked boot around left end on which he nearly scored a few plays later.

Another option keeper for him and he scores untouched. The 49ers have the best front in football and they were being made to look foolish on this drive. Completely overmatched.

Scott Spratt: Dave, you can actually watch Berman on ESPN+. Sounds like a great stocking-stuffer from your family members.

Bryan Knowles: This is what Lamar Jackson does:

This is also what Lamar Jackson does: The 49ers just busted a 40-yard touchdown run, with Raheem Mostert olé-ing Earl Thomas into the end zone, and my first thought was “oh no! The defense hasn’t had enough time to rest!”


Aaron Schatz: Raheem Mostert, 40-yard touchdown run on a sweep right to make it 14-14. Great blocking on this one by George Kittle on Jaylon Ferguson and Richie James on Chuck Clark.

Dave Bernreuther:

via Gfycat

Thought that the under in this game looked good without the weather, and great with it … so naturally Raheem Mostert takes off on a long run and it’s 14-14 already. With the way Jackson is rolling, they might hit the over by halftime.

Dave Bernreuther: Just as I was typing about how Lamar Jackson doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his ball placement (which remains true of almost everyone except maybe Mike Freeman and Cian Fahey), he sails one way behind an open Mark Andrews in the end zone and the Ravens kick a field goal on fourth-and-8.

Everything seems to be in commercial right now, so it’s a fine time to say that I’d also like to complain on the record about how stupid it is that this game is a 1 p.m. start.

Carl Yedor: For a defense as talented as that of San Francisco, a field goal normally would feel disappointing. Not today. Even despite the rain, Baltimore has been moving the ball quite effectively, but they stall out in the red zone and are forced to settle for three. San Francisco ball inside the two-minute warning down 17-14.

Bryan Knowles: This is the effect of Lamar Jackson: with two minutes left and all three timeouts, the 49ers run out of time on their drive and have to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt in the driving rain. They’re that concerned with giving the ball back to Lamar Jackson. Robbie Gould’s field goal is no good, so the Ravens take a 17-14 lead into the half.

The 49ers have made one general mistake (their ends crashing in over and over again, rather than holding on the outside to contain Jackson), and three specific mistakes — the Garoppolo fumble, and two roughing the passer penalties as defenders took out a bit of frustration on Jackson. That has lead to all 17 Baltimore points. I am not saying that Baltimore is only winning because of San Francisco’s mistakes; that’s crazy. I am, however, saying that you can’t make mistakes against Baltimore and expect to win, because the Ravens do not make mistakes.

Hell of a game so far. Looking forward to the second half.

Carl Yedor: Great play by Fred Warner to break up a Lamar Jackson throw on fourth-and-5 from the plus side of midfield. The Ravens were effectively in no man’s land at the San Francisco 40 and chose to go for it, but the 49ers defense held firm and got a huge stop.

Aaron Schatz: Turnabout being fair play, same thing just happened with the 49ers going for fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 35. Pass knocked down by Chris Wormley. Baltimore gets the ball back.

Bryan Knowles: The Ravens respond by stopping the 49ers on fourth-and-1 from the 35, tipping the ball at the line. 6:33 left, still tied at 17.

Vince Verhei: Let’s not overlook that the 49ers called timeout on that fourth-and-1 play. They’ve only got one left now, with six minutes to go.

Can I just say that, between the teams and the weather, this one has been a joy to watch? I like football where third-and-4 is a running down.

Bryan Knowles: The battle of fourth downs continues! The Ravens convert at their own 30, and can kneel to set up a field goal if they want…

Bryan Knowles: 49-yard field goal? In the rain? For the game? Please. Give Justin Tucker something hard to do next time. The Ravens pull it out, 20-17, after a great game.

Dave Bernreuther: Tucker hits a third-down field goal as the game expires, and it’s the only points of the second half. Baltimore keeps the heat on New England. Sorry, Texans fans…

Guess I jinxed that over with my earlier comments. Whoops.

Vince Verhei: Third-and-13 at the 31, two timeouts left … and the Ravens choose not to run a play, settling for the 49-yard kick. I hate that decision so so so so so so much. Fortunately for them they have Justin Tucker, and he drills the 49-yarder for the win.

Scott Spratt: I was thinking maybe the Ravens should call timeout with like 12 or 14 seconds before the third down. That way, even if they throw incomplete, they wouldn’t give the 49ers more than a play, and they’d still have a chance to gain yards and comfortably call their last timeout. What do you think, Vince?

Vince Verhei: They could have called almost literally anything on third down and I would have liked it more than doing nothing. They had two timeouts! Zone read, quarterback run, straight dropback, even just a handoff in a range where a 5-yard gain would make a huge difference in the kick.

Bryan Knowles: Yeah, it was strangely conservative from Harbaugh. I mean, I know you’ve got the best kicker in football, but it’s rainy and miserable out there; give him a few more yards, yeah?

Washington Redskins 29 at Carolina Panthers 21

Scott Spratt: Derrius Guice just broke a long run for 60 yards but didn’t show the top-end speed to outrun the secondary. I’ll be curious to see if his workload spikes over the last third of the year as the Redskins try to evaluate their young players for future seasons.

Scott Spratt: Aaron, what was the DVOA of the worst rushing defense of all time? I’m asking for a friend…

Aaron Schatz: 1986 Tampa Bay at 21.2%. The Panthers aren’t close to that yet, even after today’s game.

Bryan Knowles: It has been an onside kick-happy weekend — Carolina just recovered an onside kick thanks to a great layout by Jermaine Carter, and all of a sudden, Carolina has the ball down just eight…

Bryan Knowles: Oh, Carolina’s goal-line offense. Stop me if this sounds familiar: the Panthers had a first-and-goal from the 1, and couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. I think this is the fourth game they’ve lost this season because they couldn’t punch the ball in at the goal line. I mean, they were dead before today, but they pushed the Saints last week! Not so much this week.

Andrew Potter: That sequence bears a little elaboration. A D.J. Moore catch-and-run almost reached the goal line, but he was tackled just short to bring up first-and-goal. Two Christian McCaffrey handoffs lost a yard each, placing the game in the hands of Kyle Allen. On third down, Allen threw straight to Quinton Dunbar under the goalposts (targeting Moore again) but Dunbar dropped the game-sealing pick. On fourth down the Panthers went five-wide. Allen took the snap, went backward, delayed, went backward … and backward … and backward, until he was eventually sacked at, I’m not kidding, the 25-yard line, and inevitably fumbled. Terrible situational awareness, terrible pocket awareness. At some point on fourth-and-game you really do need to just heave and hope.

Vince Verhei: This is amazing.

Scott Spratt: Amazing is one word for it, Vince.

Green Bay Packers 31 at New York Giants 13

Scott Spratt: I love that it’s snowing in New York while the Giants are hosting the Packers. Talk about a road game at home.

Vince Verhei: It’s the first day of December and I think this is the first real snow game of the year, which is always fun, but Fox’s enhanced field graphics are really distracting. You want to clarify the 5-yard lines and sidelines, that’s fine, but the numbers and 1-yard ticks along the sideline are just too much. Every time a player steps on one they enter the shadow zone.

As for the actual game, slippery conditions often give the edge to the offense, because they can act while defenders must react. That’s true so far today — at the end of the first quarter, the quarterbacks are a combined 12-of-15 for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Packers up 14-7, but the Giants just got a first down on an unnecessary roughness foul on Blake Martinez.

Bryan Knowles: I’m surprised this score is 17-13 … and as I type that, Rodgers finds Davante Adams on third down in the red zone to extend their lead. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Aaron Rodgers had a free play on an offside and took advantage to throw deep and score.

Tennessee Titans 31 at Indianapolis Colts 17

Rivers McCown: I swear these teams run the same playbook. Play-action, run-heavy, and then mix in some empty for some easy gains too. Tennessee has seemed to be doing a little better so far, but Derrick Henry’s fumble gave them a short field.

Another missed Adam Vinatieri field goal — ambitious from 55 after a false start ruined a fourth-and-1 — and the Titans start their third drive with good field position.

Vince Verhei: Adam Vinatieri is something like 200 years old and has been having a terrible year. If I have to choose between giving him a 55-yard field goal try or going for it on fourth-and-6, I’m not kicking. But Frank Reich makes the conservative choice, and Vinatieri predictably pushes the kick wide and to the right.

Dave Bernreuther: And now the Titans block a kick. I guess I’m not going to put that one on Vinatieri, but damn, it’s really just not his year.

Rivers McCown: One telling stat for this game is that Tannehill has already taken five sacks at halftime. The earlier ones were blitzes that got home — one important one was Darius Leonard inside and coming untouched past the center. The last two were just base rushes in a two-minute offense.

The Colts have also not done much against the blitz. Jacoby Brissett just doesn’t read it very well. 10-7 Colts at halftime in a game that very much feels like a battle to make fewer mistakes.

Vince Verhei: Tannehill strikes me as a Jared Goff type, who looks great when his first read is open but much worse if he has to go through progressions or escape pressure. That would explain his bad sack numbers, which have been a constant for most of his career.

Bryan Knowles: Every time I look over to this one, Jacoby Brissett is hitting a good pass. A big third-down hit to Jack Doyle sets up Nyheim Hines for a 1-yard touchdown, and we have a 17-7 lead. Colts look like they’re tired of the Titans hanging around in the division race.

Vince Verhei: But then Derrick Henry answers. His four runs on the next drive go for 7, 34, and 6 yards, and then finally on fourth-and-1 he takes a pitch to the left and rumbles through the Colts defense for a 13-yard touchdown. He’s at 123 yards on 15 carries, still in the third quarter, and the Colts lead is just 17-14.

Vince Verhei: Well, we have the hands-down weirdest officiating moment of the day. First-and-10, Tannehill throws to A.J. Brown right at the first-down marker. Brown drops it and the refs rule incomplete. Colts challenge, saying it should be a catch and fumble, and they recover. Replay determines that it WAS a catch, and it WAS a fumble, but there was no clear recovery by the Colts, so Tennessee retains. However, because the Colts didn’t win the challenge, the original incomplete call stands, even though replay showed it was a catch. So it’s second-and-10 instead of a first down, and two plays later Tennessee punts. We’re tied at 17-all midway through the fourth.

Vince Verhei: Vinatieri has missed one field goal today and had one blocked … and now in the fourth quarter, he has another blocked, and this one’s returned for a touchdown that breaks the tie and puts Tennessee up 24-17.

Vince Verhei: Brissett throws a bad pass into triple-coverage and it’s his second interception of the day, this one by Logan Ryan. Third-and-6 two plays later, Tannehill goes deep to Kalif Raymond for a 40-yard touchdown. Titans have scored 24 straight points and now lead 31-17. The Colts were kicking for the lead barely two minutes of game time ago.

Tom Gower: The game ended about three and a half hours ago now, and I’ve been trying to think about the best way to give my customary recap of that game. Tennessee’s offensive performance today had something in common with their offensive performance last week, a seven-point effort with better play-to-play effectiveness than you’d expect from a seven-point performance. A couple of fumbles that gave the Colts short fields put Indianapolis in front, but Jacoby Brissett will probably end up with his front/red zone splits quoted in Quick Reads as the Colts made it inside the Titans’ 40 four times in five non-kneeldown possessions in the first half and only had 10 points thanks to a pair of no-good Adam Vinatieri field goals (one blocked). Both teams started the second half with good scoring drives to make it 17-14 Colts. A dreadful Jacoby Brissett overthrow under pressure gave the Titans a tying field goal on a three-and-kick. The second-best Colts drive of the half stalled out in field goal range, and he matched Al !@#$!#@ Del Greco’s playoff performance to go for 1-for-4 with two blocked kicks, one of those returned for a crucial touchdown (yes, I hate myself just typing those words, but I can’t help myself sometimes). Trailing 24-17, Brissett had another overthrow end up in the hands of a Titans defensive back, and Ryan Tannehill hit Kalif Raymond deep for a 31-17 lead with just over three minutes to play and that was that.

The natural temptation, of course, is to say What It All Means, so here’s a go at that:

1. Like last week, the Titans exploded for a bunch more points in the second half after only seven in the first half. This game was not that game. Last week was a Jaguars defense that didn’t adjust (well?) to their schematic failings in the first half and was just completely eviscerated. The Colts defense gave up one good drive, a field goal on a non-drive, and one deep play. The Titans otherwise had two gains longer than 20 yards, one on each of their first two touchdown drives.

2. Jacoby Brissett was effective when his first read was open, which Frank Reich did a great job of for most of the game, and completely ineffective when he was not. When he got pressured and his first read didn’t lead him to a throw, he was done.

3. Ryan Tannehill had similar issues. Both he and Brissett got hit a ton (the Colts set a season-high for sacks in a game, in the first half). The first touchdown drive was an example of why he’s playing over Marcus Mariota and the Titans are happy he is, with his willingness to attack tight windows, but those sacks are basically a feature of his game, which we learned in Miami.

4. The Colts wide receivers against the Titans corners ended up looking like the fourth quarter of a first preseason game. Chester Rogers and Adoree Jackson got hurt early, so it was Logan Ryan (the one exception), Kareem Orr, and Tye Smith covering Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, and Marcus Johnson.

5. Every game feels like a must-win elimination game for Tennessee, and today was no exception to that. They’re still not likely to win a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Colts, even after the win, but it gave them a win and their foe a loss. A similar scenario awaits next week as they travel to Oakland. The Colts begin a stretch of division games. They’re in decent shape tiebreaker-wise in the division, but pending Sunday Night Football they’re looking up at Houston at 7-4 and Tennessee at 7-5. Those two teams have yet to meet (thanks, 345 Park schedule-makers!), so there are two more guaranteed losses and the Colts still have hope. But they do need to do better on offense if they’re going to get there, because they can’t count on their defense to win games for them.

Cleveland Browns 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 20

Vince Verhei: Third-and-5 from the 15-yard line, Baker Mayfield hangs in the pocket and finds Kareem Hunt wide open underneath the coverage, and Hunt slips some tackles and goes into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. Cleveland’s two scoring drives have totaled 23 plays (the key play on the field goal drive was a Jarvis Landry sideline toe-dragger that was ruled incomplete live but, much to my surprise, switched via replay to convert a third-and-long) and they had a six-play march that ended in a punt too. Steelers have only had two possesions, gaining 9 yards in eight plays so far, almost halfway through the second quarter.

Vince Verhei: Steelers getting back into this. James Washington makes a deep catch down the left sideline, and then the Steelers get creative, with a reverse to Diontae Johnson and a pair of direct-snap runs to Jaylen Samuels. The drive stalls after a false start (which I never saw, even on replay), but they get a field goal to make it 10-3.

Dave Bernreuther: That was a terrible call. Should’ve been on the defense.

Vince Verhei: Steelers have tied the game on a barrage of long bombs:

  • First down, Hodges throws incomplete deep downfield to Johnson. Sheldrick Redwine was actively trying to interfere, but got lucky when the ball got there at the same time he did.
  • Next play, Hodges goes deep to Tevin Jones for 28 yards.
  • Next play, Hodges goes deep to Washington for a 30-yard touchdown. T.J. Carrie pulled Washington down by the facemask and shoulder before the ball got there, but Washington still made a spectacular catch while falling to his back.

Vince Verhei: Closing seconds of the first half, Baker Mayfield’s hand smacks the facemask of a Steelers defender as he’s throwing a pass. He immediately jogs to the sideline and straight into the locker room, clutching his thumb. Garrett Gilbert comes in throw a pair of desperate lobs and we hit halftime tied at 10, with Mayfield’s status in serious jeopardy.

Vince Verhei: Steelers take a 17-10 lead as another deep ball, a 44-yarder to Washington, sets up a Benny Snell goal-line plunge, Snell’s first touchdown of the year.

Mayfield is on the field for Cleveland after the kickoff. The Browns cross midfield and convert a fourth-and-1 at the 40 with a dive up the gut, but then a holding penalty on a wide receiver screen pushes them back, and in long yardage Mayfield scrambles in the pocket and has the ball knocked free, and the Steelers recover.

Vince Verhei: Following the turnover, the Steelers get a first-and-goal, looking to stick the nail in the coffin. And then the Steelers apparently confuse Devlin Hodges for Lamar Jackson, perhaps because they’re both wearing black jerseys today. Second-and-goal, they run a quarterback draw for a decent gain. Third-and-goal, they run a quarterback sweep. Designed run all the way, with Hodges’ teammates throwing blocks, not running routes. That goes as well as you think it would and brings up fourth down. They kick the field goal for the 20-10 lead but that still feels like a missed opportunity.

Vince Verhei: The big-play results have flopped in the fourth quarter. Mayfield completes three straight passes of 19-plus yards to set up a field goal. First play of Pittsburgh’s next drive, Hodges goes deep again, and Terrance Mitchell gets an easy interception. The drive goes nowhere, and Cleveland ends up punting out of a field goal formation. It appears that the ball is downed inside the 1, but Mike Tomlin has challenged that the ball was touched by a Browns player in the end zone and should be a touchback.

Vince Verhei: Call stands, and man that’s a hard one. Sure looks like Carlson has a hand on the goal line and a knee on top of the ball, but is it indisputable? Steelers have a first down inside their own 1, up 20-13, 5:35 to go.

Dave Bernreuther: Should be, but isn’t. And nobody knows why, including Gene Steratore and Dan Fouts, who called it “flat wrong.”

Fouts is right on this one, but he and Ian Eagle have been otherwise awful and horribly annoying to listen to today. Neither one of them has called Devlin Hodges anything other than “Duck” all game, including repeatedly calling him just plain “Duck” — similar to Madonna or Seal — which seems entirely unwarranted. Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, and even if it’s his actual long-standing and well-publicized nickname (if it is, I had never heard it till today), it’s unprofessional and lazy. It’s driving me crazy.

But yeah, even though Tomlin is notorious for making bad challenges … that non-reversal was every bit as terrible as some of the DPIs that New York has ignored this year. He had every right to complain.

Vince Verhei: Folks have been calling him Duck for weeks now. I saw a photo where he went duck hunting, so maybe that’s why? Anyway, it’s not new. Annoyingly overused, yes. New, no.

Vince Verhei: Oh, man, third-and-6 after the two-minute warning, needing one first down to ice the win, Hodges has Washington almost totally uncovered down the left sideline but doesn’t see him, and ends up throwing the ball away. Cleveland will get one more possession to tie the score.

But no, Mayfield throws behind Landry, former Browns corner Joe Haden gets the pick, and this one’s done.

New York Jets 6 at Cincinnati Bengals 22

Bryan Knowles: With a two-game lead in the draft race, the Bengals clearly think they can afford to actually play some football now. The return of Andy Dalton to the lineup has sparked something; he broke Ken Anderson’s franchise record for touchdowns in the first quarter, and the Bengals have now scored on three consecutive drives to jump out to a 17-3 lead over the Jets — the Jets, who have looked so hot over the past three weeks, are in danger of losing to a winless team!

Scott Spratt: A Bengals win would be super dangerous, Bryan. Remember they play the Dolphins in Week 16. Could be the No. 1 pick bowl!

Aaron Schatz: Remember, front offices may be trying to tank and get a better draft pick, but players never are. Do you think it matters to Andy Dalton whether the Bengals get the No. 1 pick to choose his replacement? Draft position isn’t going to change his competitive drive.

Dave Bernreuther: I said this earlier to a friend, but it would be the most Jets thing ever to lose to the 0-11 Bengals after thrashing a playoff contender.

And lo and behold, Andy Dalton has the Bengals up by two touchdowns. Being a Jets fan must be infuriating.

Bryan Knowles: The 2017 Browns can pop the champagne. We will not have a winless team this year!

Rob Weintraub: In the immortal words of Etta James, “At … last!” Cincy finally wins one, and the Fish and Skins do too, so we are still in great shape for the top draft pick. Can’t ask for more than that. Naturally, Andy Dalton coming back into the lineup to lead the Cats to a win had Bengals twitter going ape, pushing for the team to keep Dalton at quarterback next season and pick Chase Young first overall. Should those events transpire it would prove a form of malpractice so great the league should just step in and let the dudes who picked the top 100 players of all time run the franchise.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28 at Jacksonville Jaguars 11

Bryan Knowles: The mustache lives! Gardner Minshew is back in for Jacksonville, as Nick Foles has just been terrible today. Too little too late, both in the game (25-0 Tampa Bay) and the season in general, but hey.

Los Angeles Rams 34 at Arizona Cardinals 7

Bryan Knowles: Other than the NFC East race to the bottom, there’s pretty much exactly one NFC team out of playoff position who could still make noise down the stretch — the Rams. And even they are hanging on by the thinnest of threads, desperately needing to beat Arizona to get to 7-5 and still have a tiny, tiny bit of relevance. They seem to be playing like they know that, too. Arizona’s defense held them to two field goal attempts on their first two drives (one missed), but their third drive was an 81-yard touchdown drive, with Jared Goff looking like 2018 Jared Goff, not 2016 Jared Goff. Arizona’s first two drives have gone for 5 and 16 yards, so, you know, things could be going better in the desert. Rams have a 10-0 lead early in the second.

Vince Verhei: Rams’ first three drives today:

  • 10 plays, 66 yards, field goal.
  • six plays, 43 yards, missed field goal.
  • 10 plays, 81 yards, touchdown.

They’re already over 12 minutes of possession in a game that is only 16 minutes old. They’re not always scoring but for whatever it’s worth, they are really hanging onto the ball.

Scott Spratt: With Gerald Everett out, Rams’ second tight end Tyler Higbee has 77 yards and a touchdown in a quarter. The Cardinals are on their normal game as the No. 32 DVOA defense against tight ends.

Bryan Knowles: I thought this would be the best game of an admittedly weak late-game window. With the Rams now up to a 16-0 lead, and Goff up to 255 yards passing in the first half, I may have been mistaken.

Bryan Knowles: Halftime here, with the Rams holding on to a 20-0 lead. This is the Rams from last year, the ones we really haven’t seen all year long — Goff’s up to 323 yards passing, Gurley’s got 62 yards and a touchdown of his own on the ground; both Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee going off. Twenty-one first downs to Arizona’s three; it’s an old-fashioned stomping. In a day filled with bizarre results, this may be the most bizarre for me by a significant margin.

Vince Verhei: Rams lead 20-0 at halftime. They have more than 20 minutes of possession time, they have run 47 plays to Arizona’s 20, they have outgained the Cardinals 390 yards to 63, and they have the edge in first downs by a margin of 21 to three. Jared Goff is over 300 yards passing. Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee are both over 100 yards receiving. Kyler Murray has completed five passes (one to a wide receiver) and been sacked three times. Again: it’s halftime. Hell of a turnaround for L.A. after the Ravens eviscerated them last week.

Scott Spratt: They just showed on the broadcast that 15 of 77 pass interference replays have been overturned this year. Doesn’t that rate seem high?

Vince Verhei: Kyler Murray runs in a touchdown to make it 34-7 and Blake Bortles takes the field for L.A.

Reporting for the sake of completeness.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 at Denver Broncos 23

Bryan Knowles: Drew Lock is getting his first career start today; if he hadn’t been injured early in the season he probably would have started before December. So far, so good — 6-for-9 for 54 yards and his first career touchdown, as the Broncos take a 7-0 lead late in the first.

Derrik Klassen: Drew Lock!

In the first quarter of his NFL career, Lock hits Courtland Sutton down the right sideline for a touchdown. Sutton needed to extend and pull it in with one hand, but hey, for a rookie quarterback in his first start, you take those. Lock does have the benefit of 12 weeks on the bench before having to play, but credit to him for coming out strong in his first appearance. Won’t at all be surprised when Lock tosses a pick later in this game, though. Lock has always been a volatile player. Good thing Broncos fans are used to that from their quarterbacks.

Bryan Knowles: When writing the Denver chapter this year, I became convinced that Lock is Jay Cutler with a friendlier personality, so Broncos fans have a lot of experience with this kind of player.

Derrik Klassen: Lock did it again!

Didn’t ask his wide receiver to make a crazy catch the second time around. With the offense inside the 10-yard line, Lock slipped around the pocket a bit before sliding up to fire from a bit of an odd platform. Lock has always been able to throw from weird platforms, though, because he’s so good at finding a comfortable arm slot and he has the raw strength to make it work. When he’s on, Lock is a lot of fun and it’s showing early in this one.

Bryan Knowles: Kicker-coach controversy! Brandon McManus was coming out to try a record 65-yard field goal to end the first half, but Vic Fangio called him off the field. McManus shouted some unprintable words and chucked his helmet at the ground. To add injury to insult, the Broncos got called with a delay of game. The ensuing play is a good gain from Drew Lock, but not one that gets into the end zone, so it’s just a 17-10 lead at half for the Broncos.

Vince Verhei: In Denver?

With a 17-10 lead?

And you don’t give him a shot?


Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure how Keenan Allen gets lost in coverage, but hey, a touchdown is a touchdown. The entire third quarter was eaten up by punts, but the Chargers have opened up the scoring in the second half to tie it at 17 in the one remaining competitive game, even if it’s between two noncompetitive teams.

Bryan Knowles: Well, now Broncos fans can say they’ve had the full Drew Lock experience, with Denzel Perryman picking him off on a route Lock stared down the entire way.

Vince Verhei: The Broncos kicked a go-ahead field goal with 4:26 to go. The Chargers then managed to kill two minutes and nine seconds, and also lose a timeout … without even picking up a first down. They called a timeout to discuss a fourth-and-1 play, then committed a false start anyway to bring up fourth-and-6. But now down to two timeouts (plus the two-minute warning), they pretty much still have to go for it.

Bryan Knowles: And a SECOND false start, bringing up fourth-and-11. Chargers going to Charger.

Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-1? Too easy. Fourth-and-11 is the kind of play that Phillip Rivers likes; bombing one out to Mike Williams to keep the game alive!

Vince Verhei: But then Mike Williams runs downfield, falls down, recovers, and THEN catches a ball deep downfield in field goal range.

The Chargers are going to tie this game but then lose on a 70-yard field goal and all of our Chargers losses BINGO cards will spontaneously explode.

Rob Weintraub: But no! Mike Williams stumbles, almost falls, then recovers in time to make a sensational grab on the fourth-and-11 heave down the left sideline. L.A. in business at the two-minute warning.

Dave Bernreuther: Please tell me that the Chargers didn’t just get into a totally makeable fourth-and-1 and then commit TWO consecutive false starts.

My god. They did. There aren’t even words for that.

Thankfully, Rivers summoned his old self and hit Williams for 38 yards to keep the game alive, because that would have been a really stupid way for this game to end.

Vince Verhei: Chargers get a fourth-and-1 at the 28. They line up to go for it, wait till the play clock hits one second, then call timeout. The clock was running, so only 19 seconds left as they try to tie the game. So, uh, why didn’t the Broncos call timeout? Well, the kick is good, and the game is now tied with 14 seconds to go.

Bryan Knowles: The Chargers get to ANOTHER makeable fourth-and-1, with two timeouts left and a minute left on the clock. They decide, instead, to drain the clock and kick the game-tying field goal. Booooo!

Bryan Knowles: Eight seconds left, and the announcers agree: you just take a knee here and go to overtime.

Wisely, the Broncos disagree, and bomb one out … and the Chargers commit pass interference in field goal range, so they’ll get a kick to win. Oh, Chargers.

Aaron Schatz: Oof. Chargers loss bingo has reared its ugly head again, as Casey Heyward commits DPI on a desperation downfield pass to Courtland Sutton and it puts the Chargers into field goal range with three seconds left.

Vince Verhei: I was close, dammit.

That was some horrible, horrible clock management at the end of the game by both teams. Chargers bailed out by one big catch downfield. Broncos bailed out by the NFL’s ridiculous spot-foul pass interference rule.

Rivers McCown: Friend: “What are the Chargers doing?”

Me: “What are the Chargers ever doing?”

Rob Weintraub: The NFL is a billion-dollar business, the players and coaches work impossibly hard year-round, and yet games are decided on such falderol and gimcrackery as that pass interference call and huge yardage gained as a result. Never ceases to amaze.

Oakland Raiders 9 at Kansas City Chiefs 40

Scott Spratt: Normally you’re OK with Patrick Mahomes violating all the rules of quarterbacking, but that deep throw across his body from the right sideline to the middle of the field should have been intercepted. Nevin Lawson dropped an absolute bunny and cost the Raiders a good amount field position in the process following a Chiefs punt.

Vince Verhei: Checking in here midway through the second quarter.

The Chiefs’ first two drives both started in Oakland territory after Raiders turnovers (Tyrann Mathieu intercepting Derek Carr and Trevor Davis fumbling away a kickoff return). They scored a touchdown on the first one, but the second ended when Darrell Williams was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the 15. Combine that with Mahomes’ near-interception, which had a good chance at being returned for a touchdown, and it has not been a stellar day for the Kansas City offense.

For Oakland, Josh Jacobs has eight carries for 55 yards, but on fourth-and-1 in no man’s land they take him off the field. The fullback Marc Ingold lines up at tailback, but the ball goes to Davis on a jet sweep. With no Jacobs on the field to distract the defense, the Chiefs sniff out the play and hit Davis for no gain. A well-earned zero points so far for the Raiders.

Bryan Knowles: Derek Carr throws his second interception of the day. The first was a lollipop that any defender could have snagged with ease. The second saw Juan Thornhill just reading Carr all the way, jumping the route and taking it all the way back to the house. 21-0 Chiefs, as the Raiders are just beating themselves.

Vince Verhei: OK, Kansas City has woken up. Patrick Mahomes runs for a 13-yard touchdown, his first of the year on the ground and only the third of his career. Next drive for Oakland, Juan Thornhill jumps a seam route intended for Tyrell Williams and takes it to the house for a touchdown, and Kansas City’s up 21-0.

Aaron Schatz: The Raiders offense basically consists of two guys, Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs. Jacobs has 14 carries for 95 yards against the weak Kansas City run defense but the problem is that eventually he’s going to not pick up 8 yards on his first-down carry and you’re going to have to throw the ball and then there seems to be nobody Carr can throw to except Waller (three catches, 48 yards). Oakland wide receivers have one catch in the first half.

Daniel Carlson finishes off the last Oakland drive of the half by honking a field goal VERY wide to the left. Chiefs get the ball with 1:04 left.

Bryan Knowles: A video of that field goal, which may be the worst kick of the season. And a Jon Gruden face that sums up the last two weeks for Oakland.

Vince Verhei: Remember those halftime stats I gave in the Rams game? At halftime here, the Raiders have held the ball for more than 17 minutes, and they have outgained Kansas City 189 to 127. They’re still down 21-0.

Vince Verhei: By far the most interesting thing in the second half of this hideous game is a unique officiating call. On third-and-goal from the 8, Trayvon Mullen intercepts Patrick Mahomes in the end zone. However, all turnovers are automatically reviewed … and upon review, it is determined that Mullen interfered with Demarcus Robinson. So take away the interception, give Kansas City a first down at the 3, and LeSean McCoy runs it in from therefor a 28-0 lead.

Wait. 31-0. Apparently the Chiefs got a field goal in there somewhere.


Aaron Schatz: I have no idea at this point what will make them overturn pass interference. I think there have been more of those reversed pass interferences this week than any other week of the year and I can’t tell what separates one from the other.

Aaron Schatz: End of the third quarter, and Oakland still has only one pass reception by a wide receiver. Please get Tyrell Williams some help.

Rivers McCown: With Oakland and Indy losing, looks like the driver’s seat for AFC South/Final wild card are: Titans, Texans, Steelers.

At this point I think nine wins is probably enough.

Dave Bernreuther: Down 31-0 in the fourth quarter and in the red zone, Jon Gruden sent out the field goal unit, and mercifully, the local CBS affiliate switched over to the Broncos-Chargers game. Congrats to Gruden for once again keeping a shutout off his resume.

Matching 34-3 thumpings in consecutive weeks would be appropriate. This week it’s against a good team, so I guess that counts as improvement.

Bryan Knowles: Oakland gets a late touchdown to salvage a little bit of dignity.

And then the extra point is blocked, and returned for two points for Kansas City, to take it right back.

New England Patriots 22 at Houston Texans 28

Aaron Schatz: Early in this game, these teams seem determined to try to run the ball on each other. There have been a lot of third-and-mediums.

Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure Kyle Van Noy on Duke Johnson is something the Patriots want to do too much of during the game; Johnson burns him for a touchdown to give the Texans a 7-3 lead.

The short field was set up by a Tom Brady interception. Bradley Roby jumped the route — I think it was a sloppy route by N’Keal Harry, though you’d expect someone like Brady to see that and not throw the ball that way. Even the Pats’ defense can’t hold up against short fields like that!

Rivers McCown: I think you can argue it makes sense on both sides. The Texans got rolled by the Colts and Ravens their last two games, and they’re down Angelo Blackson and Brennan Scarlett in their base package.

Then the Texans don’t have a lot of incentive to throw against the greatest pass defense of all time unless they’ve got a mismatch somewhere.

Aaron Schatz: Duke Johnson is the mismatch, apparently. If the Patriots can’t cover Johnson, they’re going to have even more problems with Kansas City’s running back patterns next week.

Bryan Knowles: Well, running backs in the pass game was their weakness, in that they were 10th in the league rather than first by a longshot. Worth noting they were sixth against tight ends, too, and both Darren Fells and Jordan Akins have had big plays against them so far.

Dave Bernreuther: Rob Gronkowski, L.A. Lakers Cheerleader.

And now we have seen everything.

Carl Yedor: Bill O’Brien’s approach to the end of half seemed a little bizarre there. Running on second-and-long made it feel like he was happy with the lead that he has currently (yes, there was over a minute left for New England to mount a drive) rather than there being some sense of urgency to try to put more points on the board. Sometimes we see coaches play it a little more conservatively before half when they’re getting the ball to start the third quarter, but New England gets the ball first instead. So you’d think that with the amount of time remaining, Houston would be somewhat more aggressive with its play calling. There is the issue of time on the clock, but with two timeouts, the Patriots had more than enough time to get some sort of points out of their ensuing drive. Doesn’t end up costing them any points because the Patriots’ drive stalls out just outside of field goal range, but New England does still get the ball to start the second half.

Rivers McCown: I assure you it’s entirely consistent with O’Brien’s history.

Boy it’s nice to see a short-passing offense that works. Duron Harmon talked earlier in the week about how the Pats would run more Cover-2, and the Texans have an advantage in the secondary weapons department that most teams don’t have.

Aaron Schatz: Brady got rescued from his second interception by a (correct) holding call but he still telegraphed that pass right to Bradley Roby. A couple plays later, he just threw it past Rex Burkhead. He’s straight-out missing guys tonight. The whole offense is discombobulated, but it’s not just about whether the receivers can get separation. Brady is not playing well.

Derrik Klassen: Any discussion about whether or not Tom Brady is truly washed/done isn’t interesting to me, but if nothing else, he doesn’t make for compelling entertainment right now. It’s just not fun watching him play right now.

Bryan Knowles: I’m glad that we could spend those five minutes reviewing a 35-yard touchdown pass by Deshaun Watson, just so we could do another 35-yard touchdown pass by Deshaun Watson on the very next play. I think that was the third big deep shot Watson has hit tonight, against the best deep-ball defense in the league coming in. If you can beat New England at what they do best…

Rivers McCown: Well, those both came on man. The other deep catches have been in zone.

I think one thing we’ve learned tonight is, absent some real changes, that there’s not a lot of catch-up ability for the Patriots. They aren’t coming back in deep negative game scripts.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots finally score a touchdown after two penalties give them a first-and-30 and they somehow convert it with a 44-yard pass to a weirdly wide-open Julian Edelman. James White catches a flare pass for the score. And the Pats line up to go for two and … take a delay of game penalty? Do you really want to move your new scrap-heap kicker back 5 yards for the extra point?

Apparently you do, and he misses it. So now it’s 21-9.

Bryan Knowles: New England responds with their longest touchdown drive since the opening drive of the second half against Philadelphia — and that’s not counting the extra yardage they had to pick up after 30 yards of penalties.

Carl Yedor: Seemed like New England was going to go for it if they liked the look they saw from Houston’s defense, which seems a bit strange because by not going for it, if you assume that the PAT will be made (which it obviously wasn’t) you are then hoping that you then get a better look when you try a two-pointer later in the game? This is under the assumption that you’re trying to tie the game with one more touchdown and field goal after this sequence. But Kai Forbath’s miss makes that all go out the window.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots just sent a blitz that looked like the “Engage Eight” from Madden. I think it was only seven, actually. The defenders didn’t get to Watson and he found DeAndre Hopkins open easily because Stephon Gilmore had to protect against the deep pass with no safety help. I don’t think the Cover-0 is working against Watson tonight, kids.

Rivers McCown: The result of this game defies the results of any Houston football team I’ve ever seen before so I am very confused, but I will accept that this is happening.

Tom Gower: We finally saw Houston look like DVOA’s 26th-ranked defense, but too late for it to make a difference in the game. As Rivers said, not the sort of positive result you expect from a Houston-based football team.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, man, I thought the Patriots had that last onside kick there, just for a moment. That would have been one of the most painful losses in a long time had the Pats come back, but the Texans prevent defense failed to prevent victory.

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