NFL Week 9: What we learned from Sunday's games

Kansas City Chiefs 33, Carolina Panthers 31

1) Among all that makes Patrick Mahomes a special talent is that he defies the notion that offensive balance is necessary for big production. Sunday’s win over Carolina showed that as well as any, as the Chiefs rushed for a putrid 30 yards on 12 carries, and still rang up 33 points on the strength of another monster passing day from Mahomes. He ended up with 45 pass attempts, almost four times Kansas City’s run calls, and threw for 372 with four touchdowns. When he’s well-protected — and Sunday, he was sacked just once — the man needs no help from Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

2) In a league where quarterbacks are coached to slide, get out of bounds, and avoid contact in traffic as much as possible, you’ve got to admire the occasions when they sell out with a key first down at stake. Enter Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater, who scrambled up the middle on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter, and leaped for the stick-mover just as he was hammered by Chiefs LB Ben Niemann. A few plays later, Bridgewater took a QB draw into the end zone to pull Carolina within a field goal.

3) Nobody can accuse the Panthers of easing Christian McCaffrey back into the offense too slowly. In his first action since a September ankle injury, the star rusher was the focal point of the Carolina offense right from its opening drive, which finished with a McCaffrey touchdown catch. He ended up with 28 touches, more than twice as many as any other Panther, for 151 total yards.

— Chase Goodbread

Baltimore Ravens 24, Indianapolis Colts 10

1) Credit the Ravens pass defense, even without star CB Marlon Humphrey who was out with COVID-19, for blanketing Colts receivers on what proved to be a tough day for QB Philip Rivers. Marcus Peters notched an interception and a pass breakup, and the linebacking corps was all over most of the short stuff that Rivers incessantly settled for. His longest completion went for 21 yards, and it came in the fourth quarter with the outcome already put to bed. It didn’t help that the Colts’ top receiver, T.Y. Hilton, was out with an injury, but Baltimore (6-2), not Hilton’s absence, was the reason the rest of the Colts (5-3) offense showed no explosiveness.

2) Lamar Jackson spent the first half of this game in a funk as Baltimore went to the break with just 56 total yards, but looked more like the 2019 MVP in the second half. A key was his aggressiveness in throwing more downfield, hitting Nick Boyle and Marquise Brown with deeper throws on each of Baltimore’s first two drives of the second half. Jackson still finished with just 170 passing yards, but stretching the Colts’ tough defense helped open the running game to spark Baltimore’s win.

3) Dez Bryant’s NFL comeback will have to wait at least another week if it is to add any juice to the Ravens offense. The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver was activated from Baltimore’s practice squad for his first action since 2017, but played very little and finished without a catch. With Baltimore’s offense dormant for the first half, it would’ve been a great time for a little splash from Bryant. Didn’t happen.

Chase Goodbread

Tennessee Titans 24, Chicago Bears 17

1) A.J. Brown is a monster. The Titans receiver paced an offense that wasn’t asked to do a ton against an excellent Bears defense. Brown was the difference as the Titans (6-2) jumped out to a 10-0 first-half lead. The YAC demon picked up a big play on Tennessee’s first field-goal drive. Then, midway through the second quarter, Brown caught a picture-perfect Ryan Tannehill pass down the sideline and muscled his way for a brilliant diving 40-yard TD. The play gave Tennessee a double-digit lead that felt like the game-winner against a Bears team struggling to move the ball. Brown accounted for 101 yards of the Titans’ 228 total yards on the day. With the run game stymied and Tannehill swarmed by Bears, Brown’s big plays stood out and were enough to put Chicago away.

2) Matt Nagy’s offense is broken. The Bears earned just three first downs through two quarters and didn’t score a point until the fourth quarter against a defense that was missing its top pass rusher. Nick Foles looked afraid to take shots and was off-target the majority of the game. Foles stacked up empty stats, earning 335 yards on 52 passing attempts, as the Bears sneaked back into the game late with two garbage-time TDs. For the majority of the game, Chicago’s O was brutal on the eyes. The run game was nonexistent even before David Montgomery got dinged up. Chicago’s longest run of the day was a fake punt by linebacker Barkevious Mingo that went 11 yards. Not trusting the offensive line to protect Foles, the Bears tossed a bevy of balls well short of the sticks on third-and-longs. You know an offense is hurting when it seems a Herculean task to gain four yards on a third and 13. Even when the offense did start moving the ball late, it couldn’t get out of its own way with two fumbles killing any chance of a comeback. Once again, a majestic defensive effort was wasted by Chicago (5-4).

3) Corner Desmond King was welcomed to Tennessee with a touchdown. The trade to bring in King paid immediate dividends, as the corner scooped up a fumbled forced by Jeffery Simmons and scampered 63 yards for a score to put the Titans up, 17-0. The Tennessee defense took advantage of a sieve Bears offensive line, with linebackers Jayon Brown and Harold Landry living in the backfield. Brown gobbled up 10 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss, and a pass defended. Landry earned a sack and three QB hits. With Jadeveon Clowney out, the Titans forced two turnovers, squashed the Bears ground game and compiled three sacks. Taking advantage of a bad Bears offense, Tennessee handled its business without needing a massive day from its offense.

— Kevin Patra

Minnesota Vikings 34, Detroit Lions 20

1) Dalvin Cook shot out of a cannon, blasting through a massive hole, shedding a tackle attempt, and dashed 70 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. For the second-straight week after returning from injury, Cook carried a Vikings offense that gobbled up yards on the ground. Cook dominated shoddy Lions tackling, taking 22 carries for 206 yards and two scores. He added two catches for 46 yards. When Cook is baking, the Vikings offense is an efficient operation that allows Kirk Cousins to find wide-open receivers off play-action. To wit: On Minnesota’s first two drives, the Vikes marched down for touchdowns without attempting a third-down play. Mike Zimmer’s squad got itself to 3-5 with back-to-back division wins after a disastrous start to the season. With Cook cruising, Minnesota is threatening to jump back into the playoff discussion and has a favorable schedule down the stretch to make noise.

2) Matthew Stafford’s week started with the QB on the reserve/COVID-19 list and ended in the locker room getting evaluated for a concussion. Stafford was knocked from the contest early in the fourth quarter after a sack and never returned, though he was cleared of concussion protocol. Before the injury, Stafford looked like a QB who missed a week of practice, throwing two brutal interceptions in scoring range as the Lions (3-5) threatened to stay in the contest. Stafford’s errors wiped out any chance. After taking a deep shot on the opening play, Stafford didn’t stretch the field against a Vikings defense that had been getting torched this season. Chase Daniel took over when Stafford exited and threw his own ugly INT. When the Lions turn the ball over, and the offense goes two of five in the red zone, Detroit has no shot at winning given how bad their defense has been this season.

3) The Vikings special teams unit will likely face Zimmer’s wrath this week. The group gave up two punt blocks Sunday. Detroit hadn’t had a blocked punt since 2007 until last week. Zimmer’s team saw them collect two in one half of football. Against a bad Lions team, the miscues didn’t kill Minnesota. They could against better clubs. 

— Kevin Patra

New York Giants 23, Washington Football Team 20

1) When every team in the division is bad, every divisional game means that much more. The New York Giants and Washington Football Team are still playing for first place and the first pick in the NFC East, if not the entire draft. Big Blue (2-7) beat WFT (2-6) for the second time in four weeks, leaving both teams just one win behind the top spot in the division. New York, of course, still has to prove it can beat teams other than Washington if it’s going to contend in the NFL’s worst division. A plus-five turnover margin is typically the blueprint for a blowout, yet it took two takeaways in the final minutes to prevent a collapse.

2) While New York earned the head-to-head tiebreaker Sunday, Washington holds the advantage for the draft. It might come in handy next April. Halfway through the season, Washington’s quarterback question remains unanswered. Kyle Allen’s season is likely over after he suffered a dislocated ankle. Alex Smith, in just his second appearance since breaking his ankle two years ago, got hot but cooled late. He threw for 325 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter to seal the loss. Coach Ron Rivera said afterward that Smith will be the starter moving forward. Dwayne Haskins can’t get out of D.C. soon enough. At the very least, Washington might have something in Cam Sims. The second-year wideout entered Week 9 with all of six receptions in his career. His big-play ability — his three receptions went for 32, 33 and 45 yards — woke up a sleepy WFT offense and sparked the double-digit rally.

3) Daniel Jones didn’t commit a turnover. It’s worth celebrating given that he had one in every game this year prior and led the league with 13 coming into Sunday — Jones has a whopping 36 turnovers in 21 career games. His game-managing skills didn’t extend much further against Washington. He took five sacks and averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt while leading one long touchdown drive, though he capped that off with a dime to Evan Engram. New York won because of an opportunistic defense and strong rushing attack. Jones did his part in helping build a 20-3 lead in the first half. But similar to Monday’s narrow loss to the Buccaneers, the second-year starter needed to do a lot more in the second half to put the game away. It’s why New York might also be looking for a new QB after the season.

— Adam Maya

Houston Texans 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 25

1) Amid a season where the effort hasn’t always been there, Deshaun Watson again left it all out on the field in an effort to will his team to victory. And, with Watson’s arm and legs leading the way, Houston (2-6) managed to hang on for its first road win. Facing a defense not known for generating pressure still proved to be a challenge for the Texans’ O-line, but Watson’s shiftiness and playmaking ability kept numerous drives afloat. His first pass of the afternoon turned into a 57-yard Brandin Cooks catch-and-run score, which was the Texans’ first opening-drive TD of the season. Not longer after, Watson would lose David Johnson (concussion) for the rest of the day, adding more to his plate. Watson made good on his opportunities to scramble and finished with a team-high 50 rushing yards. Watson did take more than a few hits for his troubles – two sacks, five QB hits – but his running game effort coupled with his 281 pass yards and two TDs capped off another all-around showing. 

2) Jake Luton’s path to QB1 status nearly mirrored the man he replaced, but the performance the rookie put on ended up outdoing what Gardner Minshew managed in his debut a year ago. After having his first pass batted down at the line, Luton connected with D.J. Chark (7/146/TD) for a booming 73-yard touchdown pass to give the Jags (1-7) an early lead and their first opening drive score of 2020. With fellow rookie James Robinson (25/99/TD) trudging away on the ground, Luton settled in a bit and displayed a good arm and solid pocket presence. His performance wasn’t without its woes, namely failing to evade an incoming J.J. Watt for a strip-sack and launching an errant pass for a pick. But his effort to close was rather impressive. Down 27-19 with under three minutes remaining, Luton capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a nifty 13-yard TD run to cut the Jags deficit to two. An incomplete pass on the ensuing two-point conversion, however, provided a bittersweet ending. He finished 26-of-38 for 304 yards, a TD and an INT. 

3) It wasn’t a particularly great day for either defense, which was expected considering how shoddy both have been. But a shoutout is in order for Houston, which made a few difference-making plays. The aforementioned pick set up a 77-yard Will Fuller TD, which luckily wasn’t flagged for delay of game despite the ball being snapped well after the play clock reached zero. Consecutive run stuffs by Tyrell Adams and Justin Reid forced a turnover on downs on the Jags’ first fourth-quarter drive. Watt, who became the 35th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks, ended their second. Jacksonville’s last series resulted in a score, but the Texans’ coverage held up to eek out a post-bye week W.

— Jelani Scott

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