Remember the scene in Rocky IV when Rocky, bruised and battered in the opening minutes of his fight against the invincible Ivan Drago, lands a sweeping right cross that draws blood above Drago’s eye? “The Russian’s cut!” the announcer exclaims. Drago wasn’t so invincible after all.
Now, I’m not saying this means Lamar Jackson is going to defuse geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia the way Rocky Balboa did in 1985 (though I won’t rule it out, either). But Jackson and the Ravens showed the world that the Patriots are not unstoppable. They’ve cut them. They’ve hurt them. They’re not machines. They’re men!
And it just opened up the entire race to Super Bowl LIV.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 9 Power Rankings.
The scariest thing that happened on Halloween night?
Jimmy Garoppolo played like a star. We already knew the
49ers could be a dominant team with Jimmy G in
Game Manager mode. But what happens if San Francisco’s 28-year-old quarterback makes the leap? If he becomes the franchise passer many expected after his flash of success that ended the 2017 season and preceded the knee injury that cut his 2018 season short?
Against the Cardinals, Garoppolo finished 28 of 37 for 317 yards with a career-high four touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 136.9, another career high-water mark in a game he started. And best of all for coach Kyle Shanahan? This didn’t feel like a guy playing over his head. Garoppolo has always had immense promise … this was a reminder. We’ll find out soon enough if he can raise his game in the same manner when matched up against better competition, but for now, life keeps getting better for the undefeated
Saints hit their Week 9 bye on a six-game winning streak, with confirmation they have one of the deepest teams in football. We saw that at quarterback, where
Drew Brees was lost to injury and
Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 when called upon. And we saw it again at running back, where
Latavius Murray filled in for a banged-up
Alvin Kamara and piled up four total touchdowns and 221 rushing yards in Weeks 7 and 8, the second-highest total in football in that span. A common thread in those two groups? The offensive line, which
remains a major strength in New Orleans.
Larry Warford and rookie center
Erik McCoy have been a wall of dependability, the
“Big Homies,” as Bridgewater calls them. The Sean Payton
Saints have always prioritized O-line development and continuity — it’s incredible how many teams fail to grasp this basic tenet of team-building.
Patriots began their season with eight straight wins, with nearly all of those victories coming by landslide. That dominance is what made
Sunday night’s 17-point loss to the
Ravens such a surreal sight. This
Patriots team has been led by its defense, but when
Lamar Jackson marched Baltimore on a pair of 14-play touchdown drives in the second half, it showed that the unit is not nearly as invincible as originally thought.
In Week 8, a bad
Browns team rushed for 159 yards against New England. The
Ravens went over 200 yards on the same night the
Patriots‘ own running game fizzled once again in limited duty. It was a bad night, no doubt, but this is hardly time for panic at Patriot Way. Bill Belichick gets a nicely timed Week 10 bye to get healthy and clean up some of the deficiencies that have popped up. The Pats’ next opponent
(the Eagles) should be worried.
Ravens welcomed the undefeated
Patriots into their house on Sunday night and showed them how different life can be when you face a legit
Super Bowl contender. That’s exactly what Baltimore looked like in
a convincing 37-20 win. The turning point came midway through the third quarter, after
Tom Brady answered
a Marlon Humphrey fumble-return TD with a commanding touchdown drive against a gassed Baltimore defense. On the ensuing possession,
Lamar Jackson and the
Ravens were facing third-and-5 — you got the feeling that if Baltimore would have gone three-and-out, New England could have taken control of the game. Instead, Jackson gained 18 yards on
a pass to Mark Andrews then closed out the 14-play march with
a scoring strike to Nick Boyle. The Pats never threatened again. Jackson ran for two touchdowns and threw for another against a New England defense that’s been hailed as Bill Belichick’s best.
Those MVP chants are earned.
Well, that was unexpected. The
Packers were set up with a de facto home game against a
Chargers team that had underperformed all season. But there would be no 3.5 hour sunshine celebration for the Cheeseheads who packed Dignity Health Sports Park in Southern California. Instead, the
Chargers scored the game’s first 19 points, and Green Bay’s vaunted offense didn’t pass the Los Angeles’ 40-yard line until 2:17 remained in the third quarter.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense woke up in time to make things somewhat respectable, but the
26-11 loss to the Bolts was an obvious “dud”, to use the quarterback’s words after the game. Rodgers threw for a season-low 161 yards, and the
Packers‘ offense failed to find a rhythm in a day filled with pre-snap penalties and protection busts. Is this the beginning of a slump or a bump in the road? Green Bay
gets the Panthers in Week 10.
Russell Wilson, who looks determined this season to capture his first MVP award. He tied a career high with five touchdowns, including
the game-winner to Jacob Hollister in OT, to lift the
past the Buccaneers and keep Seattle within striking distance of the undefeated
49ers in the NFC West. With the Seattle defense struggling to get stops, Wilson and the offense carried the day with 492 yards and their highest point total of the season (40). Wilson’s job is made easier by freshly minted receiving star
Tyler Lockett (13 catches Sunday) and a rookie with star potential,
D.K. Metcalf. Metcalf might be new to the league, but the Ole Miss product plays like he’s been making plays with Wilson for eight years. It explains why FOX color man Ronde Barber at one point Sunday described Metcalf as “reliable as ever.” This is a great offense.
Beating the Vikings was important for the
Chiefs, who, after
falling to Green Bay in Week 8, had to find a way to win one of these games with
Patrick Mahomes sidelined. This is a Super Bowl-or-bust season for Kansas City; to make it there, the
Chiefs need to win the AFC West and — ideally — snag one of the top two seeds and the bye that comes with it.
Matt Moore did his part, even if he never takes another snap, with Mahomes
potentially on track to return soon from the knee injury he suffered in Week 7. The career backup QB played very well these past two weeks, posting a passer rating north of 100 in both starts. He got help against the
Damien Williams, who had
a 91-yard touchdown run and a potentially game(season?)-saving fumble recovery after Moore was stripped on the
Chiefs‘ final drive, which ended with
Harrison Butker’s game-winning kick.
LeSean McCoy was a savvy pickup by the
Chiefs, but Williams is The Man in the Kansas City backfield.
Texans suffered a critical blow when
J.J. Watt was lost for the season with a torn pec, but the defense delivered an excellent effort without the star against the
Jaguars. Romeo Crennel’s unit pressured
Gardner Minshew into four turnovers — all in the fourth quarter — and finished with four sacks in
a 26-3 win at Wembley Stadium. Houston stuffed Jacksonville’s all-important running game and got a huge performance from the offensive line, which was missing star left tackle
Laremy Tunsil but allowed just one sack of
Deshaun Watson and helped
Carlos Hyde and
Duke Johnson rumble for 241 scrimmage yards. Speaking of Watson, his right eye still doesn’t look right after he took that cleat to the face in Week 8, but the quarterback delivered another crisp, turnover-free performance that included some more of those Houdini escape routines that have become his calling card. Houston is the team to beat in the AFC South.
Vikings‘ offense had its chance to make …
Kirk Cousins and friends took the field with 2:30 to play in the fourth quarter, game tied at 23. For Cousins, it was a chance to exorcise a few demons acquired by failures in similar high-leverage scenarios in the past. For the
Vikings as a whole, it was an opportunity to knock off the
Chiefs in Arrowhead and move into a first-place tie with the
Packers in the NFC North. What came next: Incomplete pass. Screen for negative-7 yards. Incomplete pass. Punter
Britton Colquitt jogged out, shanked a punt, and soon, Kansas City players were swarming the
Chiefs‘ kicker at midfield. It’s not embarrassing to
lose to the Chiefs on the road — even without
Patrick Mahomes on the field. But doubt remains as to whether a Cousins-led team can rise to the occasion when called upon.
Rams had that beautifully symmetrical Week 9 bye, so let’s take a closer look at
Todd Gurley at the halfway point. The running back was a constant source of speculation in the offseason, as
concerns about his left knee created doubt he would still be an All-Pro-caliber player in 2019 and beyond. Things aren’t looking great right now. Gurley eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards just once in the first half of the season, a 101-yard effort
in Week 1 against the
Panthers. For context, he surpassed the century mark nine times in 2018 and 12 times in 2017. Gurley still has a nose for the end zone — as his seven TDs in seven games attest — but he doesn’t seem to have that same explosiveness. How much does his statistical decline have to do with a dip in the Los Angeles’ offensive-line play? That’s a question the
Rams must answer internally.
A necessary win on Sunday for the
Eagles, who get back above .500 and hit their Week 10 bye before huge tests
against the Patriots
and Seahawks. The
Eagles‘ defense held the punchless
Bears offense to 9 total yards in the first half, the fewest yards allowed by the Iggles in a half in the last 40 years, per Elias Sports Bureau.
Jordan Howard was the offensive star, finishing with 82 yards on the ground and a score against his former team.
Carson Wentz isn’t putting up the MVP-like numbers that some expected this season, but he helped seal the win with four third-down completions on the
Eagles‘ final drive, which was capped by
Jake Elliott‘s game-icing field goal. Wentz will go the rest of the way without
DeSean Jackson, who is headed for
season-ending surgery after aggravating his core injury in his return Sunday after missing the previous six weeks. As we saw in Week 1, when he racked up 154 yards and two scores on eight catches, D-Jax could have really helped this offense.
Devin Singletary finally got his chance. The rookie third-round pick was the offensive focal point in
a win over the Redskins, finishing with 140 scrimmage yards on a season-high 23 touches. Singletary only had 20 carries total entering Sunday — he matched that in four quarters against Washington. “He’s a shifty guy, he’s a bowling ball — he bounces off people,” teammate
said after the game. Singletary has played behind
Frank Gore (11 carries, 15 yards on Sunday) all season, but you have to imagine Buffalo could be ready to flip that arrangement after Singletary’s breakout performance. This
Bills offense has not consistently moved the ball through the air with
Josh Allen — Sean McDermott needs a high-end running game to pair with a top defense. The veteran Gore deserves respect … but Singletary should get the ball as Buffalo begins its playoff push.
This season, the
Colts learned how to survive — and thrive — without Andrew Luck. On Sunday, they had to get by without
Jacoby Brissett, Luck’s successor, who went down with a knee injury in the second quarter against the
Steelers. On Monday, Brissett was diagnosed
with a sprained MCL, and his status for Week 10 is unclear.
Brian Hoyer played well overall in Brissett’s place, and he would have been a figure worthy of celebration in Indy on Monday morning, had
Adam Vinatieri not missed wide, wide,
wide left on
his 43-yard attempt with the
Colts down 2 points and 1:11 to play. Frank Reich can continue to spin positive all he wishes, but Vinatieri — who also had a PAT try blocked on Sunday, giving him an NFL-worst five missed PAT tries — has become a liability in his 24th season. And when you’re a team seemingly as addicted to playing games decided by a field goal or less as the
Colts are, well, that’s a problem.
A nice bounce-back performance by the
Panthers, who washed away the taste of that
Week 8 blowout loss to the
a decisive win over the
Titans in Charlotte. As usual, it was
Christian McCaffrey leading the way for the home team. CMC went off for three touchdowns and 166 yards from scrimmage in a performance that should return him near the top of any MVP conversation. To win the MVP as a running back, you have to deliver a historic season. McCaffrey’s doing that. According to NFL Media Research, McCaffrey has joined Jim Brown (1963) as the only players in NFL history with 150-plus scrimmage yards and at least one touchdown in six of his team’s first eight games. And for you fantasy heads out there, McCaffrey is currently on pace to out-point LaDainian Tomlinson’s legendary 2006 campaign and deliver the greatest fantasy season of all time. The kid is breaking hearts and winning leagues.
31-24 win over the
Lions must have felt like a fever dream for
Raiders general manager Mike Mayock. Oakland scored four touchdowns in the game — all of them by rookies. Running back
Josh Jacobs bolstered his Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy with two scores, fifth-round wideout
Hunter Renfrow scored for the second time in as many weeks and tight end
Foster Moreau hit pay dirt for the third time. It’s a reminder of what a great job the Mayock/Jon Gruden leadership council has done rebuilding the roster on the fly. It’s a fun offense to watch:
Derek Carr is playing the best football since his magical 2016 season, and the offensive line is protecting the quarterback and blowing open huge holes for the running game. With a
favorable schedule over the next three weeks, the
Raiders are a real player in the AFC wild-card race. How about that?
Mike Tomlin put it well after
Sunday’s win over the
Steelers‘ fourth in five games: “It’s good to be sitting at 4-4. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.” Left for dead after
Ben Roethlisberger‘s season-ending elbow injury and an 0-3 start, the
Steelers have fought their way back into
the AFC playoff picture. They can thank their defense for that. Pittsburgh’s D has 22 takeaways and is being led in the back end by
Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has been a difference-maker since being acquired from the
Fitzpatrick’s pick-six of backup
Brian Hoyer was huge for a
Steelers team that has to work very hard for points with
Mason Rudolph under center. Prior to Fitzpatrick’s Week 3 arrival, Pittsburgh’s opposing QBs had a 131.3 passer rating. That figure has plummeted to 74.6 with Fitzpatrick roaming the secondary. You want a star when you give up a first-round pick … the
Steelers got one.
A season-saving performance by the
Chargers, who scored
a decisive win against one of the top teams in football. This had the feel of a
Chargers team starting to pull some things together. The return of left tackle
Russell Okung has stabilized the line, and running back
Melvin Gordon is starting to look like his old self after a rough few weeks.
Newly promoted offensive coordinator Shane Steichen called Gordon’s name on a key fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter, a situation that summoned sour memories of
the Chargers’ unthinkable loss to the Titans in Week 7. This time, Gordon followed his blockers and
plowed into the end zone with the clinching score, much to the chagrin of the thousands of
Packers fans who packed The Big Dignity on Sunday. The Bolts still have work to do at 4-5, but they are a compelling team to watch in the AFC wild-card scramble.
Another frustrating loss for the
Lions, who are kicking away too many opportunities to stay in the NFC playoff race. On Sunday in Oakland, the biggest culprit was the defense, carved up through the air and on the ground in
a 31-24 defeat. Detroit’s offense is talented enough to keep up in a shootout, but it’s not a sustainable ask week after week. The
Lions need someone to step up on D, and they need their defensive-minded head coach, Matt Patricia, to find a way to stop the bleeding. It’s a shame, too, because this offense can light it up.
Matthew Stafford might be at the height of his powers, and the wide receiver tandem of
Kenny Golladay and
Marvin Jones is one of the best in football. Speaking of which, how can those two guys
not be on the field with the game on the line in the final seconds? The
Wembley Stadium was ready for Minshew Mania to run wild across the streets of London, but the
Texans weren’t having it. The
26-3, and Minshew turned the ball over on each of their final four possessions of the game, which was his worst yet as a pro. As the Jags head into their Week 10 bye, and as
Nick Foles nears a return from his clavicle injury, will Doug Marrone make the switch at quarterback? The head coach certainly left the door open after the game, saying he planned
“to step away a little bit” and examine the situation. That makes you think the veteran Foles has a shot to play and is even the likely choice. You wonder how that will sit with a fan base that has been busy buying No. 15 jerseys and gluing fake mustaches onto their upper lips for the past two months. A move to Foles would be a move against public favor.
Brandon Allen‘s NFL debut could not have gone any better. The undrafted quarterback, claimed off waivers from the
Rams on Sept. 1, threw two touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over in
a win over the Browns. Allen managed to do something that
Joe Flacco never could: turn first-round pick
Noah Fant into a playmaker. The rookie tight end had the biggest play of the game,
a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown that put Denver in control in the second quarter. With Vic Fangio’s team at 3-6, a playoff runs remains a pipe dream, but seeing growth from young players like Fant and Allen can help turn this seemingly lost season into something more promising as the organization spins forward. And now, a fun nugget from our research department: Since 1950, Allen is the only quarterback to not appear in a game in his first three seasons, then win his first career start. History!
Bears reached their nadir as they jogged to the tunnel at halftime of
Sunday’s loss to the
Eagles. In the game’s first two quarters, Chicago accumulated 9 net yards of offense on 20 plays. Matt Nagy’s “attack” rebounded somewhat in the second half with two touchdown drives, but there remains a very real and seemingly unsolvable quarterback problem on this roster.
Mitchell Trubisky has put enough on tape at this point to show us he is not the player Chicago thought it was getting with the No. 2 overall pick in 2017. Ideally, the
Bears would have an untested-but-promising young backup to turn to, but
Chase Daniel (33) is not that. The limitations of the quarterback room will keep Chicago in purgatory until the
Bears can address the situation in the offseason. And they will. As for this season? At 3-5 and with
a remaining schedule filled with
Super Bowl contenders, it’s already over.
Welcome back to Earth,
Titans. Riding a two-game winning streak, Tennessee laid an egg in the first half against the
Panthers en route to
a 30-20 loss. The
Titans managed just 114 yards of offense and racked up 58 yards in penalties in the first two quarters, heading to the locker room facing a 17-0 deficit as a result. And while quarterback
Ryan Tannehill has been an improvement over deposed starter
Marcus Mariota — and the offense did show signs of life in the second half, proceeding to set a season high in total yardage — this remains a team constructed to play from ahead. The
Titans win with defense and a Derrick Henry-led running game that can dictate the pace. That defense suffered a blow on Sunday when cornerback
Malcolm Butler left with what was later determined to be a broken wrist. Coach Mike Vrabel acknowledged Monday that the injury could
end Butler’s season.
When you’re in a virtual must-win situation and
lose to a former sixth-round pick making his first career start at quarterback, you’re no longer just a disappointing team. You’re a
bad team … and the
Browns have to figure out what they must do to correct that moving forward. It was another dispiriting performance by Cleveland’s offense, which failed repeatedly in the red zone and turned the ball over twice on downs in
Baker Mayfield is simply not seeing the field like he needs to, and
Odell Beckham Jr.
began to show his frustration on the sideline after another relatively quiet performance. To make matters worse, starting safety
Jermaine Whitehead fired off a series of threatening messages on social media after the game, prompting a stern rebuke from the team and, on Monday morning,
his release. Freddie Kitchens might be coaching for his job over the final eight games of the season.
No shame in
losing to the undefeated 49ers by a field goal. This was another promising week from the Cards, who got a killer debut from running back
Kenyan Drake and a few more promising flashes from quarterback
Kyler Murray on
Thursday Night Football. Drake, acquired for peanuts from the
Dolphins three days earlier, ran for 110 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco’s elite defense. His 162 yards from scrimmage are the most by a
Cardinals player in a game this season. It will be interesting to see how Kliff Kingsbury rotates his backfield when
David Johnson returns from injury. Drake was the offensive star, but Murray had his moments, none bigger than
the 88-yard connection with Andy Isabella that put Arizona back in the game in the fourth quarter. Murray has now gone five games without a turnover, a fairly remarkable statistic for a rookie QB. The arrow is pointing up in the desert.
You can’t put
this loss on
Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ offense. Winston threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, his favorite target (of course) being the unstoppable
Mike Evans, who went off for 12/180/1 in another All-Pro-caliber performance. Unfortunately, you’re not going to win in Seattle if your defense can’t get off the field. The
Seahawks amassed nearly 500 yards of total offense, capped by a touchdown drive in overtime that denied Winston and Co. the opportunity to take the ball in the extra period. Bruce Arians
said after the game that the Bucs’ defense had five rookies on the field at one point, a recipe for disaster against a quarterback as brilliant as
Russell Wilson. The secondary has been a particular weak point for Tampa Bay this season, a likely sore spot for defensive coordinator and former defensive back Todd Bowles. Bad defense + inconsistent offense = a 2-6 record.
Falcons come off their Week 9 bye and get to prepare for …
the superpower Saints, also coming off a bye. Yep, it’s been that kind of season in Atlanta, where the
Falcons are off to their worst start in 16 years. You don’t get to 1-7 without breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and that’s certainly been the case, despite most of the blame being put on Dan Quinn’s atrocious defense. Quarterbacks
Matt Ryan and
Matt Schaub (in his lone start) have carried their share of the load, but what happened to the
Falcons‘ running attack? Atlanta leads the NFL in passing yards per game (317.0), but the
Falcons have yet to post a 100-yard rusher this season.
Devonta Freeman has reached 88 yards on two occasions, but he looks nothing like the game-changer he was a couple years ago. Oh, well — at least
a hot dog and Coke are still super cheap.
You could feel this coming. Brian Flores had the
Dolphins moving in the right direction for weeks, and it culminated Sunday with a Gatorade bath on the sideline after
a 26-18 win over the
Jets. The star of the day was
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was given time to work by his offensive line and repaid the favor by picking the
Jets apart in a three-touchdown outing against one of his many former teams. The stat of the game,
via the Associated Press: The
Dolphins led the
Jets for the final 36 minutes, 14 seconds. Entering Sunday, Miami had led for a total of 3 minutes, 46 seconds in its first four home games of 2019 … combined. As for
Dolphins fans who hope for the No. 1 overall pick the way other fans pine for the Lombardi Trophy: If the draft were held today, the
would pick third. Whoops.
You can’t love how the
the likely end of the
Andy Dalton era in Cincinnati. After nine seasons of service that included 128 starts, three
Pro Bowl selections and four playoff appearances, Dalton was pushed to the side and made to look like The Problem behind the
Bengals‘ 0-8 start. And yes, head coach Zac Taylor said the right things in his first press conference after the benching, explaining that his team’s issues went well beyond the quarterback — but the optics still stink. It’s also not particularly cool that you put Dalton on the bench the same week that
A.J. Green returns to practice … or that you
waited until just before the trade deadline to stick him in mothballs … or that you kicked him off first team
on his damn birthday.
Andy Dalton has not played good football this season, but here’s hoping he gets a fair shake in 2020.
That smell is the fabric of Adam Gase’s pants smoldering on the hot seat. A disastrous
Jets season hit rock bottom with
a loss to the previously winless
Dolphins in Miami. The optics and reality are in lockstep here. New York was soundly beaten by a team widely believed to be in active pursuit of the No. 1 overall pick. That’s right: The
Jets, who fancied themselves a playoff contender this summer, might just stumble into the first pick in 2020 through sheer incompetence.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini spotted an agitated Christopher Johnson outside the
Jets locker room after the game, and one can imagine the entire organization will be under review when this season reaches its merciful conclusion. That begins with Gase, who hasn’t had any answers in Year 1 on the job — whether that be in motivation, strategy or the development of prized quarterback
Sam Darnold. When the dust settles, Darnold could be on his third head coach in three years.
Redskins this: They know how to get it over with. Washington lost for the third straight week — and for the third straight week under interim coach Bill Callahan, the game ended in well under three hours. This is happening because of Washington’s unwavering commitment to the run with unsteady rookie
Dwayne Haskins behind center. The
Redskins have run the ball on 51.9 percent of plays since Week 6, when Callahan
took over for the fired Jay Gruden; they only ran on 31.2 percent of plays in the season’s first five weeks. This shift in philosophy has not led to greater success. In fact, the
Redskins have now gone three straight weeks without scoring a touchdown, a first for the team since 1950. You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last team to accomplish that “feat” — the Romeo Crennel-led
Cleveland Browns. This is not the company you want to keep.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.