New Orleans-Atlanta battles are often close games, and that was the case in this iteration. The Falcons, desperate for a victory to avoid 7-6, managed to get the win in an ugly contest that featured numerous Saints getting hurt.
Alvin Kamara was the primary New Orleans player who was knocked out. Kamara caught a 23-yard pass on the opening drive, but suffered a concussion a couple of plays later. Kamara left the field and never returned. That dramatically changed the course of this game, as the Saints struggled to move the ball. They held possession for only 20 of the 55 minutes following Kamara’s concussion, converting just 3-of-10 third downs without their best player. The offense, as noted on multiple occasions by Cris Collinsworth, is built around Kamara, so New Orleans’ game plan completely changed once the Rookie of the Year favorite suffered a head injury.
The Saints also saw several defensive players get hurt, including defensive back Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Left guard Senio Kelemete was also concussed. The Saints had to use their third-string left guard to protect Drew Brees, yet they were still in position to potentially win at the very end. They had possession in the red zone in a 20-17 deficit, but Brees threw an inexplicable interception on a forced throw into the end zone, snatched by linebacker Deion Jones, who made numerous outstanding plays throughout the night.
The Falcons, meanwhile, were very fortunate to prevail. They caught breaks with the injuries and the odd interception, and they managed to win despite some horrible decisions by Matt Ryan. Last year’s MVP threw three interceptions. One wasn’t his fault – the ball bounced off Austin Hooper’s hands – but the other two certainly were. He forced a throw to Julio Jones at the end of the opening half to ruin a chance for three points, and then he underthrew Jones in the end zone. Ryan, who was responsible for some terrible clock management at the end of the opening half, robbed his team of at least six points.
Ryan finished 15-of-27 for 221 yards, one touchdown and the three picks. He was almost intercepted on two other occasions, but the potential picks were dropped. Ryan made some great passes to help his team convert 26 first downs, and he was 7-of-12 on third down, but the mistakes nearly ended up costing the Falcons this game, and their season.
Despite Marshon Lattimore’s return, Julio Jones caught five balls for 98 yards. Lattimore won some battles, but couldn’t keep Jones from going off. Jones, in addition to what he posted in the box score, also drew a defensive hold. Ryan’s sole touchdown went to Mohamed Sanu (6-83).
Devonta Freeman nearly hit the century mark, gaining 91 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He would’ve hit triple digits had a long run of his not been wiped out by a hold. All in all, he ran well, considering that left guard Andy Levitre was out.
Going back to the Saints, Brees posted good numbers – 26-of-35, 271 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – but that final stat killed the team. Additionally, Sean Payton helped seal the loss by running onto the field when the Falcons were draining the clock. He was flagged for a 15-yard penalty, and that allowed Atlanta to kneel down. Earlier, the Saints had an illegal formation on a field-goal try right before halftime, and the clock ran out as a consequence. This was a very sloppy game by the Saints.
With Kamara out for all but one drive, Mark Ingram handled the entire workload. He didn’t have much success on the ground – 12 carries, 49 yards – but he helped his PPR owners with four catches for 43 receiving yards.
The only Saint with more receiving yards than Ingram happened to be Michael Thomas. Despite battling Desmond Trufant, Thomas caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. Trufant broke up a touchdown to Thomas in the opening quarter, and he poked Thomas in the eye on the final drive of the game. Thomas didn’t miss much action, but Brees didn’t throw the ball to him after that. Thomas’ best play was a 16-yard diving catch on the sideline at the beginning of the second quarter.
Chiefs 26, Raiders 15
The Chiefs had all sorts of problems when they were losing to the Giants and Bills several weeks ago. They fixed their offensive woes last week in a high-scoring affair with the Jets, and it appears as though their defensive issues have been solved as well. That, or they were just playing a terrible Raider team.
But maybe it’s both. I’m sure the Chiefs are hoping that’s the case, as they completely clamped down on Derek Carr. The final stats don’t look terrible – 24-of-41, 211 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions – but much of that came in garbage time. Carr was just 5-of-12 for 31 yards and an interception in the opening half, and he barely did anything until the Chiefs were up 26-0 and fell asleep at the wheel. The 31 yards, by the way, was Carr’s second-lowest total in an opening half in his career.
I wouldn’t put either interception on Carr. The first occurred when a deflected ball popped a mile into the air, while the second bounced off a receiver’s hands. However, Carr didn’t play well. He didn’t see open receivers downfield, and he underthrew a potential touchdown to Michael Crabtree. He has definitely taken a step backward this year, so the Raiders really have to be re-thinking their decision to let their offensive coordinator from last year walk away.
All of Oakland’s positive yardage came when the Chiefs stopped trying. That includes Crabtree’s seven catches for 60 yards, as he had just one reception for nine yards at halftime. Jared Cook (5-75) was the only player ahead of Crabtree on the stat sheet, and he caught a late touchdown. Meanwhile, Amari Cooper didn’t do much, failing to catch his only target. That’s because he gingerly walked off the field on the second drive. Cooper never should’ve played.
Marshawn Lynch also scored in garbage time on a 27-yard burst. He did nothing otherwise; he gained 61 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts. Curiously, Lynch was not on the field on a third-and-1 try in the second quarter. DeAndre Washington (4-9) was stuffed.
Meanwhile, Kansas City’s offense performed well for the second week in a row. Alex Smith went 20-of-34 for 268 yards and an interception. Smith moved the chains well and was robbed of two touchdowns. The first was when Travis Kelce’s initial score was ruled down at the 1-yard line, while the second was Demetrius Harris’ dropped pass near the goal line, which he could’ve walked into the end zone. Smith’s lone blunder was a horrible pick that he heaved high over the middle, late across his body. That was a rookie throw, and Smith should know better than that. Fortunately for the Chiefs, it didn’t cost them at all.
Kelce, as mentioned, had a touchdown overturned, which ruined what could’ve been a great fantasy day; he caught seven passes for 74 yards. He also dropped a ball on third down in the red zone, which would’ve set up Kansas City with a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.
Tyreek Hill was the only Chief with more receiving yardage than Kelce; he snatched four passes for 75 yards. Albert Wilson (5-72) made an amazing one-handed catch on a 36-yard reception while falling out of bounds.
Kareem Hunt fantasy owners know that he hasn’t produced in a long time. That changed in this game, as Oakland’s pathetic defense had no answer for him. Hunt gained 116 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. The score came one play after Kelce’s apparent touchdown was overturned.
Bills 13, Colts 7
If you somehow didn’t see highlights of this game, it was insane. This wasn’t just a snow game; it was a freaking blizzard. There were at least six inches of snow on the ground with heavy gusts of wind. To give you an idea of how bad things were, Kelvin Benjamin lined up at least two yards offside on one play in the opening quarter because he didn’t see the line of scrimmage. The Colts didn’t even attempt a pass until there were six minutes remaining in the second quarter!
With such terrible conditions, the team with the better running game had to be favored, and that was the case. However, Buffalo scored its first touchdown throwing the ball, with Nathan J. Peterman converting on two back-shoulder throws to Benjamin. It wasn’t even clear if Benjamin was inbounds on the first reception because no one knew where the sideline was, but the second was a legitimate catch in the end zone. The Bills went up 7-0, which seemed like an insurmountable lead – and it nearly was! The Colts, however, were able to somehow convert a bunch of third and fourth downs on their final drive of regulation. They scored a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw to Jack Doyle and tried the two-point conversion, which was good. However, the officials overturned it because of a late penalty where they said there was offensive pass interference. This call was incorrect, as it occurred within one yard of the line of scrimmage.
Adam Viantieri tied the game instead on a kick that was going wide right and then boomeranged through the upright, and he had another chance when Joe Webb, playing for a concussed Peterman, threw an interception because of some horrific mechanics. Vinatieri missed a 43-yard field goal. The game went into overtime, where the Bills scored on their second drive, thanks to a terrific run by LeSean McCoy.
McCoy was certainy the hero for the Bills. He looked like he enjoyed running through the snow, displaying some terrific cuts and breaking some tough tackles. McCoy tallied 156 yards and a touchdown on 32 attempts, and the performance echoed his dominant showing in the snow versus the Lions several years ago when he was playing for the Eagles.
Peterman, as mentioned, left with a concussion when he dived head first instead of sliding normally. It was a devastating play for the Bills, as right tackle Jordan Mills also got hurt. Peterman was 5-of-10 for 57 yards and a touchdown. Webb (2-6, 35, INT) was horrible as a replacement, but only as a passer. He was able to rush for 27 yards on five scrambles.
There’s not much to say about the receivers for either team, aside from Benjamin’s three receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown. Benjamin, however, hurt his knee in the second half and left the game. He and Deonte Thompson (1-34) were the only Bills with more than 11 receiving yards. Indianapolis’ leaders were Marlon Mack (2-21) and T.Y. Hilton (2-20).
As for Indianapolis’ ground attack, Frank Gore nearly matched McCoy’s production. He gained 130 yards on 36 carries, with Marlon Mack (7-23) mixed in a bit.
Jacoby Brissett completed half of his passes, going 11-of-22 for 69 yards and a touchdown. The Colts were too conservative with Brissett in the early going. They shouldn’t have passed very much, or anything, but not attempting a throw in the first 24 minutes of the game was ridiculous. They could’ve tossed some screens, or something.
Lions 24, Buccaneers 21
When two injured quarterbacks clash, you’re probably going to have a sloppy game, and that’s exactly what this was. This was three hours of ugly turnovers, dumb penalties and pathetic tackling efforts, most of which came from Tampa Bay.
The first big mistake in this game occurred when Eric Ebron lost a fumble in a 7-7 game. Jameis Winston, with his bum shoulder, responded with an interception, a late, telegraphed pass thrown toward the sideline. Matthew Stafford, playing with a hand bruise, took his turn after that. He tossed two interceptions in the second quarter. One was underthrown, allowing Brent Grimes to make an athletic play. The second was a bad read by Stafford, as he didn’t see the underneath defender.
Despite Stafford’s two picks, the Lions took a touchdown lead into halftime, and they would hold it because the Buccaneers imploded following intermission. Winston was strip-sacked, and the Lions would score on the ensuing touchdown, thanks to a dumb late hit on Stafford, as Ryan Russell didn’t even put forth maximum effort on the shove. Tampa then didn’t even try to tackle Theo Riddick on his touchdown run. The Lions opened up a 21-7 lead, putting the Buccaneers into too deep of a hole that they had to crawl out of. They actually did tie the game at 21, but ran out of steam at the very end.
Aside from the two interceptions, Stafford had a terrific performance. He completed 36-of-44 passes for 381 yards and a touchdown. He was sharp and accurate, and if there weren’t reports that he had a hand bruise, you wouldn’t have suspected anything was wrong.
Despite his fumble, Ebron was still able to lead the Lions with 10 catches for 94 yards. Golden Tate (8-85) was next on the receiving list, and he secured Stafford’s sole score. Marvin Jones (3-64) and Theo Riddick (6-64) also were key producers.
The Lions don’t have a running game, so they couldn’t hold their 21-7 lead. Riddick did well as a receiver, but he mustered just 29 yards on 10 carries. He scored twice, so he was a great fantasy play, but it’s obvious that Detroit needs to draft a new running back. I have that happening in the second round of my 2018 NFL Mock Draft.
Going back to the Buccaneers, Winston also posted some great numbers if the turnovers are excluded. Winston went 26-of-38 for 285 yards and two touchdowns. However, the two picks were killers, and so was a lost fumble on a strip-sack in the third quarter. Like last week, Winston moved the chains well – Tampa Bay registered 28 first downs, seven more than Detroit – but he just murdered his team with unforced errors.
Neither Mike Evans (2-25) nor DeSean Jackson (4-41) did anything of note. Cameron Brate (1-11) was a no-show as well. The only Buccaneers who had more than 50 receiving yards were rookie Chris Godwin (5-68) and O.J. Howard (4-54). Howard caught a touchdown, as did an offensive lineman on a trick play of sorts.
Doug Martin started and scored a touchdown in the early going, but didn’t finish the game because he was benched for fumbling. Martin was restricted to 26 yards and a score, while Peyton Barber was so much more effective, tallying 58 yards on 12 attempts. Barber is Tampa’s best running back, but like the Lions, the Buccaneers need to address the position this offseason.
A major injury of note: Gerald McCoy was knocked out in the opening half with a biceps injury.
Panthers 31, Vikings 24
The biggest difference between the Vikings from 2016 and 2017 has been the offensive line play. The team couldn’t block whatsoever last year, which was the primary reason the team capsized following a 5-0 start. Minnesota had been blocking extremely well this season, but that was not the case in this game. The team entered this contest without starting center Pat Elflein, and it lost left tackle Riley Reiff. The Vikings had to shuffle their offensive line around a lot, and they couldn’t get a good configuration.
Case Keenum took six sacks in this game, and that number could’ve been much larger had he not done a great job of avoiding sacks in the pocket. For instance, Keenum scrambled twice to get away from pressure on the second drive. On the prior possession, he had heavy heat in his face, but was still able to convert a third-and-long with a 12-yard pass to Adam Thielen. However, the pressure ultimately decided this game. Keenum was sacked on the initial play of the final drive, and then he was nearly sacked on the next snap. The Vikings failed to move the chains as a result.
The Vikings also had some bad luck during red-zone miscues at one point. Keenum had an interception deep in Carolina territory because the ball popped out of Stefon Diggs’ arms. A bit earlier, Adam Thielen dropped two passes in the end zone. The sure-handed Thielen appeared to score on the second instance, but replay review showed that the ball slipped out of his hands as he landed out of bounds. It was a slight move, and Mike Zimmer was irate, but it was the right call based on the rules.
Keenum’s final stat line was 27-of-44 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The other pick was an underthrow toward Thielen on the opening drive. Keenum posted decent numbers, but could’ve done better if the Vikings hadn’t screwed up in the red zone. Overall, it was a strong performance considering all of Minnesota’s problems on the offensive line.
Thielen was able to help his fantasy owners after uncharacteristically dropping two touchdowns. He caught six balls for 105 yards and a score. Diggs (6-64) was next on the stat sheet, while Kyle Rudolph (3-41) hauled in Keenum’s other touchdown.
Latavius Murray has been a touchdown machine lately, but struggled against Carolina’s stout defense. He was limited to 14 yards on just nine carries. Jerick McKinnon actually had a better day, gaining 46 yards on seven tries.
Moving on to the Panthers, Cam Newton didn’t have the best statistical performance against Minnesota’s great stop unit. Newton barely completed half of his passes, going 13-of-25 for 137 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which wasn’t his fault, as the ball went through Christian McCaffrey’s hands. However, Newton had two fantastic plays. The first was his touchdown when he bought lots of time in the pocket, stumbled around, and gunned the ball to Devin Funchess in the end zone. The second was a 62-yard scramble to set up the game-winning score. He juked Andrew Sendejo and sprinted upfield. Jonathan Stewart pounced into the end zone shortly afterward.
Speaking of Stewart, he had a resurgence in this game, gaining 103 yards on 16 carries. He scored a whopping three touchdowns! McCaffrey wasn’t nearly as successful, rushing for 35 yards on eight carries and catching three balls for 18 receiving yards. As mentioned, he was responsible for Newton’s sole interception.
Devin Funchess struggled against Xavier Rhodes’ coverage, but still caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Funchess was able to get open in the end zone on a broken play, so it’s not like Rhodes surrendered the score. Greg Olsen, meanwhile, didn’t catch a pass. He limped off the field on numerous occasions, so it was clear that he wasn’t 100 percent.
Bears 33, Bengals 7
One team in this matchup was a young group building on something positive for next year. The other team was a veteran squad that has been in the playoffs before, but learned that it wouldn’t be playing into January after losing to its arch rival the previous week. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be any surprise that this game was a complete blowout.
The Bears never trailed in this non-conference affair aside from when the score was 7-6 in the early going, as Mitchell Trubisky showed some major signs of improvement. Trubisky was nearly picked early in the game – he threw way late after drifting deep in the pocket – but he rebounded and barely made any mistakes aside from taking a terrible sack after once again moving too far back in the pocket. This is something he’ll need to work on this upcoming offseason, but this game was still a positive indication that he could have a solid sophomore campaign.
Trubisky finished 25-of-32 for 271 yards and a touchdown. He could’ve thrown a couple more scores, but Tarik Cohen had a touchdown negated by an illegal block in the back, and Adam Shaheen dropped a ball in the end zone.
Shaheen bounced back from his drop in the second half. He drew pass interference on Kevin Minter in the end zone, and then caught a nice fade pass from Trubisky for the touchdown. Shaheen finished with four catches for 44 yards and the score. Kendall Wright, meanwhile, led the Bears with 10 receptions for 107 yards.
Jordan Howard had a huge performance with Vontaze Burfict missing. Howard gained 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Cohen also was a big factor with 80 yards on 12 attempts.
The Bengals, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going offensively outside of one drive in the opening quarter. Andy Dalton failed to complete half of his passes, going 14-of-29 for only 141 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The pick was A.J. Green’s fault, as the ball went right through his hands.
Giovani Bernard was the only Bengal who came to play. With Joe Mixon concussed, Bernard handled almost all of the workload, though he couldn’t run very much because of the constant deficit. Bernard gained 62 yards on 11 carries, and he also led the team in receiving with six catches for 68 yards.
Green, who was responsible for Dalton’s sole pick, had a lackluster outing, catching only five of his 12 targets for 64 yards. He also lost a fumble just prior to falling out of bounds.
Packers 27, Browns 21
The Packers need to run the table to have a chance to make the playoffs, and they’ll have Aaron Rodgers available next week. All that stood in the way of a three-game run with Rodgers was Cleveland. The Browns, at 0-12, appeared as though they were going to defeat the Packers, as they held a 21-7 lead in the fourth quarter.
Brett Hundley, in his final start, led a charge in the final minutes of this game. He threw the tying score to Davante Adams with seconds remaining, as the two connected on the sort of back-shoulder pass that Rodgers typically throws. The Browns had possession in overtime, but DeShone Kizer, who had played well throughout the afternoon, threw a horrendous interception while falling backward. The Packers were in position to kick the decisive field goal, but as they did last week, they scored on a touchdown in the extra session to ruin the day for underdog bettors, as Adams once again found the end zone.
Hundley had some issues throughout the afternoon, but stepped up when it counted most. He tore up Cleveland’s poor secondary, going 35-of-46 for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He also scrambled seven times for 31 rushing yards. Hundley appeared to score on the ground once, but was ruled short of the goal line following replay. That wasn’t a big deal, however, as he came back to Adams on the next play. Hundley also had a 19-yard pass negated by a hold, and he converted a fourth-and-1 with a short toss in the opening quarter.
Aaron Jones was nowhere to be seen for the Packers, with Jamaal Williams handling most of the workload. He couldn’t find much room on the ground – 15 carries, 49 yards – but he scored twice, once on the ground, and once on a busted play on the opening drive where he was inexplicably wide open in the end zone. Williams caught all seven of his targets for 69 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Aside from Williams, Adams was the only Packer who had more receiving yards than him. Adams concluded his amazing run with Hundley with 10 catches for 84 yards and the final two touchdowns of the game. Jordy Nelson (4-33) and Randall Cobb (8-39) will see a resurgence with Rodgers due back next week.
As for the Browns, I mentioned that Kizer played well most of the time, and the numbers back that up. Kizer went 20-of-28 for 214 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The second pick was the killer, and the first was just as ugly, as he fired a horrible pass into double coverage right before halftime. He also took a 15-yard sack because he drifted way too deep into the pocket on one occasion. However, he made numerous, accurate deep throws to Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman to keep the chains moving for most of the afternoon. Kizer helped his team convert 7-of-13 third downs.
Gordon and Coleman both thrived against Green Bay’s putrid secondary that lost Davon House in this game. Gordon caught three passes for 69 yards, while Coleman snatched five balls for 62 yards. Both caught touchdowns. However, Gordon inexplicably vanished down the stretch following a hot start.
Isaiah Crowell eclipsed the century mark, gaining 121 yards on 19 carries.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Man, it was a pretty scary moment when Tom Savage was shaking when on the ground. I think some parents watching that just made up their mind not to let their kids play football.
The only thing in play in this game was draft positioning, and the 49ers could have hurt their chances of getting Saquon Barkley in the first round with their road win at Houston. Still, this win helps San Francisco to put together some positive momentum heading into 2018. Jimmy Garoppolo had a slow start, but then he ripped up Houston’s secondary. This game helps to give the 49ers proof that they made a wise move in trading for Garoppolo.
With a few completions to Will Fuller (3-26), the Texans got a long field goal out of their first drive. On the ensuing 49ers possession, Jadeveon Clowney pressured Garoppolo into an errant throw that was intercepted by Kareem Jackson. However, after crossing midfield, Earl Mitchell tackled Lamar Miller for a loss on a fourth-and-1 carry to get the ball back for San Francisco. The 49ers then got moving with a 32-yard completion to Marquise Godwin. A 52-yard field goal by Robbie Gould tied the game at three.
Late in the first half, Garoppolo hit fullback Kyle Juszczyk (3-64) for a 29-yard and then 31-yard pass to get the ball inside Houston’s 5-yard line. Carlos Hyde scored a 2-yard touchdown that put up San Francisco 10-3. Tom Savage left the game with concussion concerns and was replaced by T.J. Yates, who provided the Texans a spark using DeAndre Hopkins to move down the field on four receptions for 54 yards, including a short touchdown strike.
The 49ers’ lead didn’t last long, as Hopkins continued to dominate their secondary. He caught two passes for 24 yards while drawing two penalties before hauling in a 29-yard touchdown. San Francisco started to respond with a roughing the passer penalty on Benardrick McKinney and a completion to Godwin set up a 25-yard field goal from Robbie Gould to tie the game at 16. The 49ers moved into Houston territory again with a 61-yard pass to Garrett Celek. To finish the drive, Garoppolo hit Celek for a short touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter, Hopkins was stripped of the ball and the 49ers recovered. Gould added another short field goal to give the 49ers a 26-16 lead and ice the win for San Francisco.
Garoppolo completed 20-of-33 passes for 334 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Goodwin had six receptions for 106 yards.
Hyde ran for 78 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Yates was 14-of-26 for 175 yards with two touchdowns. He was much better than Savage, who completed 6-of-12 for 63 yards.
Hopkins caught 11 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns, but did have a fumble.
Defensively, DeForest Buckner was excellent against Houston with a sack and a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Jadeveon Clowney and Zach Cunningham played well for Houston.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I didn’t watch this game live, but I checked the halftime stats and saw that Dak Prescott was doing nothing. I started him in the playoffs of one of my leagues, so I figured I was done. I checked back a couple of hours later, and saw that Prescott scored 26.3 points for me. Thank the lord for football games being 60 minutes instead of 30!
In the wake of the firing of Ben McAdoo, the Giants actually put forth a great effort as they looked to start off their new era on the right foot. They played well until things got out of control in the fourth quarter. That was when the Cowboys’ offense really exploded.
Dak Prescott played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Giants. There’s no question about it. Prescott has received a lot of criticism for his performance with Ezekiel Elliott out of the lineup, but it’s clear that his performance was impacted in a greater capacity by his offensive line. With Tyron Smith and La’el Collins coming off 10 days of rest, Prescott’s protection was better, and he performed at a high level as a result.
For most of the day, Prescott was able to throw crisp, accurate passes to his receivers. He read the field very well and was able to find open receivers with ease. Notably, two passes showed his ability to see plays before they happen.
On one pass to Cole Beasley, Prescott threw the ball to him on the inside of his body on a wide-open out route, and that allowed Beasley to turn upfield for a 54-yard gain. On his touchdown pass to Rod Smith, Prescott saw that Smith would be open at the line of scrimmage and threw him a perfect ball in stride that Smith took to the house. Both throws were emblematic of Prescott’s strong performance.
Prescott finished the day 20-of-30 for 332 yards and three touchdown passes. He deserves a lot of credit for the victory.
Thanks to Prescott’s great performance, his receivers were able to have terrific afternoons. Rod Smith (5-113, 1 TD) ended up leading Dallas in receiving, though the brunt of it came on the 81-yard score. Dez Bryant (3-73, 1 TD) had a great second half, but he struggled with drops early on. In fact, on his first two targets, Bryant let the ball glance off his hands. If he could cut down on those, Prescott would be able to trust him more. Still, Bryant had a solid performance.
Other receivers of note were Cole Beasley (3-59), who had his best day in a while, and Jason Witten (1-20, 1 TD), who was able to continue his consecutive games with a reception streak thanks to his team’s late, go-ahead touchdown.
The Cowboys’ backfield turned into a two-headed monster in this contest. Alfred Morris handled a lot of the work early, and he started very well. However, as the game went along, the Giants were able to slow down the tough runner, and he had a couple of plays where he ran out of bounds while the Cowboys were trying to run the clock. Morris finished with 19 carries for 62 yards. The aforementioned Rod Smith got just six carries, but he had 47 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys should look to get him more touches next week before Elliott returns.
For the Dallas defense, Sean Lee was an absolute monster. He totaled a whopping 18 tackles and was a force for the team. When he’s healthy, the Cowboys are a legitimate playoff contender.
As for the Giants, the loss wasn’t as bad as it looked. They actually managed to keep the game tied at 10 for a majority of the day. A significant part of this was because of the performance of Eli Manning.
Manning, who had been benched last week in favor of Geno Smith, got an ovation from the Giants crowd when he took the field. For the first three quarters of the day, Manning was able to reward the fans with solid performance. He threw a lot of short, accurate, and well-timed passes that allowed the Giants to march methodically down the field. However, as they got further behind, Manning’s downfield limitations became apparent, and he couldn’t keep the team alive as the Cowboys caught fire.
At the end of the day, Manning finished with 31-of-46 for 228 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. One of the picks came on his last throw of the day, which came in desperation time. Manning is clearly better than the other options that the Giants currently have at quarterback. But with a better supporting cast, he can still be a solid NFL starter.
The leading receivers for the Giants on Sunday were Evan Engram (4-54) and Roger Lewis (7-46). Engram has been the top receiver for the Giants since Odell Beckham went down with an injury. Engram continued to show solid route-running skills and should be a TE1 in fantasy for years to come. As for Lewis, he did well enough to keep the Giants afloat early on, but he’s a depth player at best.
Elsewhere, Rhett Ellison was involved in a good amount of New York’s offensive plays. He was targeted five times and recorded four catches for 20 yards. He also caught Manning’s lone touchdown. Ellison could have had an even bigger day had Manning not overthrown him in the first half on a wide-open play, but he missed him. Ellison won’t be that involved in the offense most weeks, so this game was an outlier for him.
Rookie Wayne Gallman put forth a great effort on Sunday. He served as the primary running back for the Giants and totaled 59 yards on 12 carries. As a pass catcher, he tied for the team lead with seven receptions, adding an additional 40 yards. Gallman looks like a potential starter, so the Giants should give him more of a run in the final three weeks of the season.
Orleans Darkwa got 10 carries for 29 yards, but he nearly lost a fumble on the first carry of the day. He is better served as a backup moving forward.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I hope Bryce Petty starts the rest of the year. It’ll help the Jets improve their draft positioning, but that’s not why. It’s because fading him will provide great betting opportunities!
The Broncos snapped their eight-game losing streak thanks to their superb defense. Denver absolutely dominated the New York offense in prolific fashion. The Jets had only six first downs in the game with 100 total yards of offense. It looked like the Broncos turned back the clock to two years ago when their defense carried them to a Super Bowl victory.
To open the game, the Broncos produced a field goal drive with the big play being a 27-yard completion to Cody Latimer (2-37). Denver was quickly set up for more points when Josh McCown was stripped of the ball on a sack by Brandon Marshall, with teammate Adam Gostis recovering the loose ball at the Jets’ 20-yard line. Two plays plays later, Demaryius Thomas made a superb catch for a 20-yard touchdown. The Denver defense was suffocating the Jets on every possession, including an interception by Darian Stewart to take away the one true scoring opportunity for the Jets. Just before halftime, Brandon McManus hit a 53-yard field goal to give Denver a 13-0 lead at the half. The Broncos’ defense had only allowed 40 yards by halftime.
In the third quarter, Denver had a nice drive led by C.J. Anderson and Siemian distributing the ball to set up a one-yard touchdown plunge for fullback Andy Janovich. The Broncos added another field goal in the fourth quarter to finish off their 23-0 victory.
Siemian completed 19-of-31 for 200 yards and a touchdown to Thomas, who caught eight passes for 93 yards.
C.J. Anderson totaled 48 yards on 22 carries.
McCown was only 6-of-12 for 46 yards with an interception before getting knocked out of the game.
Bilal Powell ran for 35 yards on 13 carries.
Robby Anderson had three receptions for 27 yards as New York’s leading receiver.
The Broncos’ defense was led by a suffocating front seven. Brandon Marshall and Von Miller were all over the field, while Aqib Talib was superb in coverage. This performance illustrates that if Denver can improve its offense in 2018, the team should be right back in the playoff mix.
Chargers 30, Redskins 13 By Jacob Camenker – Riggo’s Rag
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chargers destroyed the Redskins this week. Couldn’t they, I don’t know, have done the same thing against the Browns when I bet on them last week!?
The Chargers are one of the hottest teams in football right now. Their win over the Redskins gives them a 7-2 record in the past nine games, and they are tied for first place in the AFC West now. It looks like they are real contenders, and that starts with their offense.
Philip Rivers is playing very well right now, and he was at his best against the Redskins on Sunday. Rivers was able to tear apart the lackadaisical Washington secondary, and he was particularly able to put Josh Norman to shame with his performance. Rivers threw downfield for a good chunk of the day, and he was able to get huge plays by creating mismatches with his faster receivers and dropping the ball into them in stride. That was how he beat Washington.
Two of Rivers’ throws were perfectly demonstrative of that. One came on his 75-yard touchdown pass to Tyrell Williams. Rivers saw Williams breaking open down the field, and he managed to perfectly place the ball in his path while Williams strode into the end zone untouched. Later in the game, on a flea flicker, Rivers had Keenan Allen open on the sideline and put a 51-yard pass right on his fingertips. It was another perfect pass, and he really was able to lead the team to victory.
By the end of the afternoon, Rivers was 18-of-31 for 319 yards and two scores. He made way in the fourth quarter for Kellen Clemens, sporting a 24-point lead when he went to the bench.
Thanks to Rivers’ success, the Chargers’ offense was able to support multiple highly productive receivers. Tyrell Williams (4-132, 1 TD) and Keenan Allen (6-111, 1 TD) both were explosive, downfield play-makers and were able to take advantage of the poor play in the Washington secondary. Allen is a WR1 for the rest of the fantasy playoffs, while Williams is a bench guy who can be streamed in the right matchup.
Elsewhere, Hunter Henry had a big first half, when he caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. After that, he took a backseat to the receivers, and those were the numbers he finished the day with. Henry is a TE1 for the rest of the season and could be in for a true breakout season next year.
Melvin Gordon had another strong performance. He led the team in carries with 22 for 78 yards, and he scored on a short touchdown later in the game. Austin Ekeler was also productive rushing for 49 yards on four carries, and he had a nice 33-yard burst as well, though that play hurt the Chargers because he wasn’t mindful of the game clock, which expired for halftime. The Chargers missed a field-goal opportunity as a result, but it didn’t end up mattering.
For the Redskins, this was a totally deflating loss. They weren’t expected to defeat the Chargers, but for the second consecutive week, the team came out completely flat.
Kirk Cousins had a nice performance in the first half, but he tapered off in the second. As the game went along, the Redskins’ patchwork offensive line fell apart and there was too much pressure on Cousins. But his performance in the first half was solid, though he did make a critical mistake.
For most of the beginning of the contest, Cousins was accurate on his passes. His lone touchdown to Vernon Davis was a thing of beauty. On a third-and-11, he stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush and then threw a perfect strike to Vernon Davis, who was coming up the right sideline. Davis went airborne and caught it while barely being touched. That was Cousins’ best throw, aside from a fourth-down strike to Niles Paul that saw Cousins thread the needle into a tight window.
Cousins finished the day 15-of-27 for 151 yards, one touchdown and one pick. The interception was a major mistake, as he lofted the ball into double coverage to set up what should have been an easy interception, but it was bobbled before the Chargers caught it. Cousins wasn’t the reason the Redskins lost, but he definitely didn’t do enough to carry the offense.
Part of Cousins’ struggles stemmed from a lack of offensive weaponry. Washington’s receiving corps had a mediocre showing against the Chargers, as Josh Doctson (3-34) and Jamison Crowder (3-34) tied for the team lead in receiving. Neither is proving to be a capable No. 1 receiver, so Washington has to consider going out and getting one this offseason.
In addition to the below-average performance of the passing game, the running backs weren’t able to do much for the Redskins. Samaje Perine got 17 carries, but he only managed a paltry 45 yards due to the terrific performance of the stout Chargers front. He left the game early with a stomach problem of some sort. Normal third-down back Byron Marshall left with an injury after a kickoff, so Perine also caught some passes. Still, he only notched seven yards on four catches.
Final Note: The Redskins’ secondary was abysmal today. Josh Norman didn’t look good at all, and he was burned on numerous occasions. Bashaud Breeland got a garbage-time pick-six, but he also struggled to deal with faster receivers. Washington is going to have to make some decisions about this unit during the offseason, as the team can’t afford to get poor play like that from its top outside corners.
Sometimes, a great game is completely overshadowed by one injury, and this matchup of two powerhouse NFL teams will be overshadowed by one injury. Despite a big win by the Philadelphia Eagles, they’ll have trouble celebrating because they have likely lost MVP favorite Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury.
These two teams came into this game both riding high and both at the top of their division. A win by the Rams would push them would have pushed them ahead of the Eagles in the race for the No. 1 playoff seed, while a win for the Eagles ended up putting them into sole possession of the No. 1 seed with a Vikings loss, plus a clinch of the NFC East.
The Rams were the first to strike with a 2-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley and showed that they could run against the best run defense in the league, but then it was all Eagles, as they scored on each of their next three drives. All three of those scores were touchdown passes from Wentz. Two of those went to Trey Burton, who got the start for the injured Zach Ertz and the other to Brent Celek. Wentz’s second touchdown pass to Burton gave his team a 21-7 lead, but Jared Goff stemmed the tide on the very next drive, as he hit Cooper Kupp for a short pass that Kupp took 64 yards. Goff then hit Kupp again for a 6-yard touchdown to bring the score to 21-14.
The Eagles took a 24-14 lead into halftime, but Goff and company quickly struck on the first drive to start the second half, as Gurley and Kupp helped the Rams move down the field for a 71-yard drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins to bring them within three points.
That three-point deficit wouldn’t last long though, as the Los Angeles defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession and then the Rams blocked the punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown. This was yet another big play by the Rams’ special teams, which overall is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. That touchdown gave the Rams a 28-24 lead, but Wentz would turn that score right back around on the next drive, as he led his team on a 7:47, 15-play drive that ended in a two-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Unfortunately, that touchdown pass came after Wentz ran for a touchdown that was nullified by a hold, but also was when Wentz was hit and suffered his knee injury. It’s amazing that he stayed in the game and threw a touchdown now that we know he likely tore his ACL.
The Eagles’ 31-28 lead didn’t last long though, as Goff then led his team down the field for a 75-yard drive that ended in Todd Gurley’s second touchdown run, a 1-yard goal line burst and a 35-31 lead.
At this point, Nick Foles was under center and was able to move the ball well enough for a field goal, but that still kept the Rams with a one-point lead, that is, until the Eagles’ defense stepped up and Chris Long strip-sacked Jared Goff, giving them great field position. Foles couldn’t do anything with the ball, but they did kick another field goal and took the lead for good this time.
This was a whirlwind game with great quarterback play, some great defensive and special teams play, and showed that both teams belong where they are in the standings. But then we go back to that massive, looming shadow of Carson Wentz’s injury and there’s not much else to take from this game for the Eagles, who will have to now try to win with Foles at quarterback. With their defense and running game, they can do it, but it’s going to be a much tougher road without Wentz. Thankfully, they do get some nice matchups on the road against the Giants and then two home games against the Raiders and Cowboys. Couple that schedule with a one-game lead for the No. 1 seed, and there is still hope they’ll be playing in Philadelphia for as long as they can last.
The Rams were good enough to win this game and kept their core offense intact for the stretch run. They’ll get two road games against Seattle and Tennessee and then a soft matchup with the 49ers at home. The Rams have the ability to win all those games, but Seattle will be the toughest and there is no room for error if they want to get back into the hunt for the No. 1 seed.
Cardinals 12, Titans 7
The Titans learned just how important Taylor Lewan is to their team after what transpired in this game. Lewan was knocked out in the opening half, and Tennessee failed to score a single point following the drive in which he hurt his back. Without Lewan, one of the better left tackles in the NFL, Tennessee couldn’t block Chandler Jones. Marcus Mariota was constantly pressured in the pocket, and by the end of the game, he was seeing ghosts. On one play, he released the ball prematurely because he thought he was under pressure.
Still, Mariota had one final chance to win the game at the very end. He threw some nice passes to Delanie Walker, but the usually reliable tight end dropped both of them, one of which was a long gain along the sideline.
Mariota barely completed half of his passes, going 16-of-31 for only 159 yards and two interceptions. Both picks occurred near the red zone, obviously ruining potential scoring chances. The first was a miscommunication with Rishard Matthews, so that wasn’t Mariota’s fault. The second was, as Mariota stared down a receiver, allowing the linebacker to diagnose the play very easily.
Mariota has done a good job of avoiding crucial mistakes throughout his young career, but this game was an exception. In addition to Lewan being hurt, Mariota was once again very limited. He took a shot to the knee early in the afternoon, and he was never the same after that. Mariota was hobbling around a bit, and that would explain why he scrambled just twice for 11 yards.
Walker’s drops at the end hurt an overall bad fantasy day from him, as he caught just five of his nine targets for 42 yards. He trailed only Eric Decker (3-56), while Corey Davis (3-29) hurt Mariota with some poor route running. Matthews (3-19) didn’t do much in his first game back from his bum hamstring.
The Titans predictably struggled to run the ball with DeMarco Murray. He was given 11 carries, which he turned into only 34 yards. Derrick Henry couldn’t find much running room either (8-20), but he scored a touchdown. Henry was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 try in the third quarter, prompting Mike Mularkey to make the brilliant call to run a fake punt inside his own 40-yard line. Keep in mind he was up 7-3 at the time. This gave the Cardinals life, and Mularkey looked as foolish as ever. Tennessee needs to find a real head coach this offseason.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, held the ball for 33:49, which is curious because they converted just 3-of-14 third-down tries. Blaine Gabbert simply didn’t have any time to throw. He was sacked a whopping eight times by a ferocious Tennessee front seven.
Gabbert went 17-of-26 for 178 yards. He had some horrific overthrows in the opening half – including one to Larry Fitzgerald, who was blazing past the defender down the sideline – and that really hurt the offense. Gabbert also overshot Jaron Brown on a third down. He improved following intermission, but still whiffed poorly on a deep shot to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald caught five passes for 44 yards. He led the team in both categories, and what’s significant about this is that he moved into third place, all time, on the receiving yardage list, passing Randy Moss. He now trails only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. He needs just 600 or so yards to catch Owens, so that could happen early next year. He’ll need about 7,000 to get to Rice, so hopefully he’s still playing in 2023!
Ricky Seals-Jones was a popular play this week, but disappointed with only one catch for 20 yards. It’s not sort of any consolation prize, but he did draw an important defensive hold penalty to help the Cardinals score.
Adrian Peterson was out, so Kerwynn Williams handled most of the workload, gaining 73 yards on 20 carries.
Jaguars 30, Seahawks 24
The Seahawks had a big statement game last week, and it was Jacksonville’s turn this Sunday. This was billed as Jacksonville’s biggest game in a very long time, but there was some question if Blake Bortles would suffer a mental breakdown. Perhaps he would have if the Seahawks still had Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, but Bortles was able to torch the Seahawks skeleton-crew back seven, delivering a victory for the Jaguars, who moved into sole possession into first place of the AFC South.
Bortles finished 18-of-27 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He had a slow start to this game, as he didn’t eclipse the century mark until the third quarter, but he torched the Seahawks in the second half. He launched a perfect 75-yard touchdown to Keelan Cole to give the Jaguars the lead after the Seahawks mounted their first comeback from down 10-0. The Seahawks, already reeling with injuries, lost their two Pro Bowl linebackers, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright to a hamstring and concussion, respectively, and the Seahawks had no chance of stopping Jacksonville once they left the game.
The Jaguars eventually led 27-10 in the final frame, but the Seahawks came charging back. Russell Wilson took advantage of some miscommunications in Jacksonville’s secondary, hurling two deep scores to trim the margin within six. The Seahawks actually had possession to potentially take the lead, but couldn’t move the chains, thanks to a horrifically blown call by the officials in which a Jaguar defender blatantly tackled a Seattle player in the open field on fourth down. It should’ve been called a defensive hold, but the refs inexplicably didn’t see it, or perhaps chose not to call it because of all the public money on Seattle.
During the kneel-downs, Michael Bennett dived at a lineman’s legs in a very dirty move, and a big fight started as a result. Sheldon Richardson was ejected, and then backup lineman Quinton Jefferson started yelling at some loser in the stands after someone tossed a beer at him. The fan then pelted him with another beer. An enraged Jefferson charged toward the fan and appeared as though he was going to climb into the stands for a Ron Artest-type moment, but he was restrained from doing so.
At any rate, Dede Westbrook had another big game for the Jaguars, catching five balls for 81 yards and a touchdown. He’s going to be a star in this league. Marqise Lee, meanwhile, played well again, though the stats don’t really show it. Lee caught five passes for 65 yards, but he should’ve drawn an interference flag in the opening half. The aforementioned Cole caught all three of his passes for 99 yards and the touchdown.
Leonard Fournette couldn’t find any running room in the opening half, but broke free following intermission. He eventually eclipsed the century mark, gaining 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Moving on the Seahawks, Wilson really had a roller-coaster game. He began on a low, overthrowing Paul Richardson and then launching an interception toward Doug Baldwin, which Jalen Ramsey picked off. Wilson then moved his team into field-goal range, but Blair Walsh missed on a 38-yard try. Wilson dipped down again, heaving an underthrown pick on a deep shot in the third quarter. His third interception, meanwhile, was a careless deep pass into double coverage. However, Wilson torched Jacksonville’s secondary after that, and he should’ve had a chance to lead a game-winning drive, but the officials blew an obvious call.
Wilson finished 17-of-31 for 271 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He once again was a wizard in the pocket, avoiding numerous sacks. He scrambled five times for 50 rushing yards.
Wilson’s touchdowns went to Tyler Lockett (4-90), Baldwin (3-78) and Richardson (3-72). Jimmy Graham, meanwhile, was a major disappointment. He was expected to do well with stud linebacker Telvin Smith out, but he didn’t catch a single pass. He dropped a ball in the fourth quarter.
Mike Davis continued to run well, tallying 66 yards on 15 carries. He had a nice, 13-yard gain with a good-looking broken tackle. He left the game with some sort of injury, however.
Steelers 39, Ravens 38
The Steelers had an unblemished record when winning by two touchdowns at home, but that was in jeopardy in this game. They led 14-0, but the Ravens charged back and took leads of 31-20 and 38-29. However, thanks to some record-setting play by Ben Roethlisberger, and Antonio Brown’s great talents, the Steelers were able to mount a comeback and prevail by a single point.
Roethlisberger was ridiculous for most of the evening. He started with an overthrow of Antonio Brown for a potential touchdown, and he had a potential interception dropped when he was trying to throw the ball away. The Ravens, however, had no answer for him otherwise, especially in the second half. Following intermission, Roethlisberger was 25-of-40 for 286 yards and a touchdown.
Roethlisberger’s overall numbers were 44-of-66 for 506 yards and two touchdowns. He had never attempted that many passes in his professional career, but that wasn’t the record-setting figure I referenced earlier. That happened to be Roethlisberger eclipsing 500 yards for the third time as a pro. He’s the first quarterback ever to hit 500-plus three times in his career.
Of course, Roethlisberger is just a third of Pittsburgh’s dynamic offense. The second third is Brown, who caught 11 passes for 213 yards, which had the NBC announcers arguing for him to be the MVP. In addition to those numbers, Brown drew an interference flag in the end zone. He caught a 34-yard bomb on the final offensive drive of the game to put the Steelers in field-goal range for the decisive score.
The final third is Le’Veon Bell, who was also a huge factor in the passing attack. He didn’t do much on the ground outside of scoring twice – 13 carries, 48 rushing yards – but he caught nine balls for 77 receiving yards and a third touchdown. The Ravens have been tough against the run since getting Brandon Williams back from injury, so Bell wasn’t able to put his trademark great patience to good use in this game.
Elsewhere in Pittsburgh’s offense, the two tight ends were big contributors. Jesse James hauled in 10 of his 12 targets for 97 yards, while Vance McDonald snatched four balls for 52 yards.
Pittsburgh’s amazing comeback spoiled what could’ve been a crucial victory for the Ravens. However, Baltimore is still in control of its own destiny, so all hope isn’t lost.
Joe Flacco didn’t begin his evening well, throwing an interception to ruin a good opening drive, as he didn’t see safety Sean Davis lurking in coverage. He then nearly threw a trio of picks. One was a miscommunication with Jeremy Maclin, while the other two had to be broken up by Mike Wallace. However, Flacco did well otherwise, shredding a Pittsburgh defense that looked lost without Ryan Shazier.
Flacco finished 20-of-35 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned pick. He was very lucky to get away with just one interception. He was also strip-sacked at the very end, and the ball trickled out of bounds. This caused the time to expire, and Flacco had no idea that the clock was running.
Alex Collins had a huge performance, as the Steelers once again struggled to stop the run without Shazier. Collins trampled Pittsburgh, gaining 120 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He also caught two passes for 46 yards. Collins could’ve had a greater fantasy output, but Buck Allen (6-25) vultured two scores away.
Wallace led the Ravens in receiving with three catches for 72 yards. He played well, as his stats don’t tell the whole story; he drew two interference flags and did a good job to break up a couple of potential interceptions. Maclin, however, was woeful. Maclin secured just three of his 11 targets for 27 yards. He had multiple miscommunications with Flacco; he failed to keep his feet inbounds on a late sideline catch attempt; and he had a minor injury that forced the Ravens to burn a timeout at the very end of the game. I have Baltimore selecting SMU receiver Courtland Sutton to replace Maclin in my 2018 NFL Mock Draft.
Dolphins 27, Patriots 20
If you were to poll 100 football fans before this game, and tell them that one quarterback in this matchup would be 11-of-16 for 92 yards and an interception at halftime, while the other would be 15-of-20 for 181 yards and a touchdown, 99 out of 100 would’ve guessed that the latter was Tom Brady, and the former was Jay Cutler. The 100th would probably be some intoxicated fool who consumed some of the liquid in Derek Anderson’s magic flask, much like the beer-throwing idiots at the Jaguar game.
And yet, Cutler was the superior quarterback in this matchup. It truly was amazing. Cutler had one of the best games of his career, while Brady was anemic. I never thought I’d see the day where Cutler would be passionate about a football game, while Brady would be playing as if he were half-asleep, but that’s exactly what occurred in this bizarre Monday night affair. It’s as if the two men decided to troll everyone by swapping jerseys right before kickoff.
Brady finished 24-of-43 for 233 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His first pick was an underthrown pass on a third-and-10 on his initial drive, while the second interception was a deep shot to Brandin Cooks in the third quarter. Brady nearly threw a couple more interceptions, including one pass on the second drive when he was drifting back in the pocket, uncharacteristically. Brady looked rattled, perhaps because some of the dirty Dolphin players – Ndamukong Suh, Kiko Alonso – dived at his knees two weeks ago. His offensive line failed to pass protect well, and that certainly didn’t help. Brady took two sacks, but that number could’ve been much larger had Brady not thrown plenty of passes away.
The poor pass protection was most apparent on third down. The Patriots didn’t convert a single one of those. I repeat: Brady didn’t move the chains on one third down in this contest. Brady’s first-quarter passing yardage, meanwhile, was the lowest of his career.
Were the Patriots looking ahead to the Steelers? Is their offensive line that bad? Or was this just a symptom of missing Rob Gronkowski? The answer to all three of those questions could be “yes.” Gronkowski dominated the Dolphins two weeks ago, but without him on the field, Miami was able to focus on locking down Cooks. Brady struggled to find Cooks, completing just one of the seven passes he threw to his quick receiver, and that lone catch, a 38-yarder, occurred on the final offensive drive of the game. Young cornerback Xavien Howard did a great job on him. Cooks drew a pass-interference flag at one point, but the call was bogus and shouldn’t have been made.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, only two Patriots accumulated more than 50 yards: Danny Amendola (6-76) and Dion Lewis (5-50). Chris Hogan, making his return from injury, caught just one of his five targets for a single yard, though he drew an interference flag late in the game.
Neither Lewis nor Rex Burkhead were able to run on the Dolphins. They both had five carries, gaining 17 and eight yards, respectively. Burkhead scored a touchdown.
Cutler, meanwhile, finished 25-of-38 for 263 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. Cutler did some outstanding things in this game. He moved safeties with his eyes, and on one play, he somehow got away from a sack on a third down and found a target to convert the first down. His numbers could’ve also been better, but Jakeem Grant dropped a deep touchdown.
If Cutler could have played like this throughout his disappointing career, he’d be a future Hall of Famer. However, he seldom lives up to his ability, and he could easily be responsible for four give-aways next week. He faced no pass rush Monday night, but that’ll change against Buffalo. The Dolphins need offensive line help, and you can check out the top players at the blocking positions in the 2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings.
Kenyan Drake was amazing in this game. The second-year running back handled the entire workload with Damien Williams out, and he took advantage of his opportunity. Drake rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries, and he also led the team in receiving, catching five passes for 79 receiving yards. It’s easy to see why they traded Jay Ajayi.
The one blemish for the Dolphins was DeVante Parker, who continued to struggle. Parker dropped two passes, which isn’t a surprise considering how much he’s been slacking off lately. Parker caught four balls for 40 yards, trailing Jarvis Landry (8-46), who caught two touchdowns.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.