LONDON fans treated to one-point thriller at Wembley, Super Bowl champions suffer fourth-quarter meltdown, Cleveland Browns OT run and much more
Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s Week 7 games.
New Orleans Saints 24, Baltimore Ravens 23
1. Sunday’s matchup featured the league’s top scoring offence against the top defence, and the game came as advertised with a hard-fought battle on both sides. The Saints, however, came out on top after putting up 24 points and surviving Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s first career missed extra point in the waning seconds of the game. The 24 points scored by the Saints represent the most the Ravens have allowed since the Cincinnati Bengals scored 34 in Week 2. The Ravens entered the day allowing just 12.8 points per game.
Quarterback Drew Brees led the charge, completing 22 of 30 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the Saints improved to 5-1, winning five straight games. Sunday proved historical for Brees as he entered the game with 499 career touchdown passes. Brees joined the NFL’s exclusive 500 career touchdown club in the second quarter on a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Benjamin Watson, then added a 5-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Michael Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Brees, who now has 501 career touchdown passes, became the fourth quarterback in league history to join the 500 Club along with Peyton Manning (539), Hall of Famer Brett Favre (508) and Tom Brady (504). With the win against the Ravens, Brees also became the third quarterback in league history to defeat all 32 teams, a feat previously accomplished by Manning and Favre.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
2. While he fumbled at the Ravens’ 6-yard line, Saints backup quarterback Taysom Hill continues to prove he is 100 per cent a football player, not a gadget player. The Saints look to utilize Hill in a variety of offensive packages, including lining up as a tight end to block.
All Hill does is produce, either taking snaps and running or getting down the field on special teams. Against the Ravens, Hill gained 35 yards rushing on six carries and produced two tackles while covering kicks. Hill has the full trust of Saints head coach Sean Payton. And it’s a virtual certainty Payton, one of the league’s brightest offensive-minded coaches, will continue to seek ways to work in Hill on any give play.
3. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco put his team on his back with 2:03 remaining in the game and facing a 24-17 deficit. Flacco engineered a six-play, 81-yard drive, capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Brown. On the game, Flacco completed 23 of 39 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
Following Flacco’s last touchdown pass, all the Ravens needed to send the game to overtime was for Tucker to do something he’s done 222 out of 222 times on his seven-year career: make the extra point.
Unfortunately, Tucker’s kick sliced wide right, leaving a stunned wide-eyed expression on the two-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowl selection’s face.
With the loss, the Ravens dropped to 4-3 on the season in the hotly contested AFC North.
– Herbie Teope
Washington Redskins 20, Dallas Cowboys 17
1. Cowboys kicker Brett Maher doinked a potential game-tying field-goal attempt off the left upright as time expired handing the Redskins the win and an NFC East division lead. The missed field goal broke a streak of 16-straight makes by Maher after he missed his first career attempt. The failure came after Dallas was flagged for a 5-yard penalty before the snap, pushing a would-be 47-yard attempt to a 52-yarder. The kick appeared as though it would have been good if not for the additional five yards. In a match in which Washington couldn’t put the game away — including Alex Smith stunningly going out of bounds on the Redskins’ final possession — it was a Cowboys’ error that ended the mistake-filled game.
2. In a league of high-flying offences, it was Washington’s defensive front that dominated Sunday’s NFC East battle, propelling the Redskins to the win. It was fitting that the pivotal play came in the form of a Ryan Kerrigan strip of Dak Prescott that was scooped up by Preston Smith for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 20-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. Washington’s defence dominated the Cowboys offensive line throughout the afternoon. Led by Kerrigan, Smith, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Matt Ioannidis, the Redskins controlled the line of scrimmage all game. The group hammered running back Ezekiel Elliott time after time in the backfield, holding Zeke to a meagre 34 yards on 15 totes (2.3 average) with a long run of six yards. Washington pestered Prescott with pressure, taking down the quarterback four times, two fumbles, and forced several big holding calls. Outside of one big play to receiver Michael Gallop (49-yard TD), the Redskins dominated a milquetoast Cowboy offence until Prescott used his legs to get Dallas back into the game with a chance to tie.
Bears fall agonisingly short0:00
NFL: It wasn’t pretty but New England have moved to five and two thanks to a seven point win over Chicago.
3. Adrian Peterson continues to be the motor of the Redskins offence. With a banged-up skill-position crew, Alex Smith couldn’t consistently move the chains, generating just 178 passing yards on 56 per cent completion rate. Washington rightly leaned on the 33-year-old running back, who powered his way for 99 yards on 24 carries, for 4.1 yards per tote. Behind an offensive line that kept a good Dallas front at bay much of the contest, Peterson continued to look spry, breaking tackles and jutting to the outside for chunk gains. Sunday marked All Day’s fourth game this season with 96-plus yards rushing. It’s no coincidence that each of Peterson’s big days led to Washington wins.
4. Sean Lee’s return from a hamstring injury provided a boost to an already good Cowboys linebacker corps. Rotating in early, Lee made several pivotal plays to end Redskins drives and give Dallas a shot at a comeback. Compiling six tackles, the linebacker sniffed out one option pitch and squashed the play, leading CBS analyst Tony Romo to praise Lee’s instincts: “That’s not his gap. He’s not supposed to be there,” Romo said. Later, Lee tracked down Smith on third down and tackled the quarterback out of bounds short of the marker to set up the Cowboys potential game-tying drive. Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch have played great for Dallas this season, but Lee’s savvy is a difference-maker.
– Kevin Patra
Kansas City Chiefs 45, Cincinnati Bengals 10
1. One week after their first defeat, the Kansas City Chiefs made sure not to suffer the same slow start that set them back against New England. The Chiefs (6-1) found the end zone early and often against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, scoring points on five of their first six drives en route to an assured prime-time victory. K.C. racked up 319 total yards on five drives in the first half, its most since 2016, and a season-high 551 total yards for the game, its most since 2004. Mahomes continued his MVP campaign with another stellar night (358 yards, 4 TDs, INT). Leading the league with 22 touchdown passes, the second-year gunslinger is the youngest player in NFL history with six consecutive 300-yard passing games. But the true star of the night was Kareem Hunt, who set the tone early and scored three touchdowns with 141 yards on 20 touches. It’s shocking how ho-hum these types of performances have become for Mahomes and Co., that a 45-10 win over an AFC playoff contender could seem not just expected, but elementary.
2. Cincinnati underwhelmed in every facet on Sunday evening. Every team struggles against Andy Reid’s offence, but that league-worst defence, the one surrendering 28.7 points per game, is supposed to be ripe for the taking, right? Uhh… The Bengals mustered just 235 total yards against the Chiefs defence, which hadn’t allowed fewer than 385 yards in its previous six games. Cincy went three- or four-and-out on three of its first-half drives and fell down four scores before the middle of the third quarter. Making matters worse, the Bengals botched a fake punt in the first half, setting K.C. up with superb field goal position, and missed myriad tackles on defence, lengthening Chiefs drives by allowing unnecessary chunk plays.
Kareem Hunt is on fire. Picture: GettySource:AFP
Fresh off his $112K fine, Vontaze Burfict was the worst offender, losing ball-carriers with his slippery grasp on drive after drive before exiting with a left hip injury. After going down to the wire with Pittsburgh last week, the Bengals (4-3) have crumbled over their last five quarters, failing to resemble in the slightest the club that throttled Baltimore in Week 2. The AFC North remains wide open.
3. Justin Houston is rarely active, and Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are no longer on the roster. But don’t look past the Chiefs’ front-seven stars they’ve left behind. Chris Jones and Dee Ford are each having career years and continued their strong play with sacks of Andy Dalton. Ford was joined in the Bengals backfield by fellow linebackers Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens and rookie Dorian O’Daniel, who kept the Bengals offence at bay by confuddling Dalton (148 yards) and stuffing Joe Mixon (50 yards). Breeland Speaks bounced back from his ridiculed missed tackle of Brady by playing all 53 snaps and recording a QB hit. K.C. allowed just 15 first downs and 4.4 yards per play on Sunday night, a season-best showing that undoubtedly started up front. A competent Chiefs defence is the AFC’s worst nightmare, and if Sunday night was any indication, it has already arrived, just in time for Halloween. Bwahaha.
– Jeremy Bergman
New England Patriots 38, Chicago Bears 31
1. Down 38-31 with two seconds remaining, Mitch Trubisky needed a 55-yard Hail Mary to force overtime. A back-from-the-wilderness Kevin White corralled Trubisky’s 54-yard rainbow only to be tackled by a swarm of Patriots just shy of the goal-line. It was that kind of day for Trubisky, who did more damage with his legs than his scattershot arm. Even though the Patriots defence made his scrambling ability a focal point all week, Trubisky improvised his way to 81 rushing yards, the second-most by a quarterback versus New England in the Bill Belichick era. In true Trubisky style, the box score belies his erratic ball placement, perhaps best exemplified by Jonathan Jones’ one-handed interception on a pass that might have gone for a long touchdown had it not been slightly underthrown to rookie Anthony Miller inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line.
Chicago’s defence and special teams will have to shoulder their fair share of the blame as well. After dominating the season’s first month, the Bears have allowed 69 points to the Patriots and Dolphins over the past two weeks. With all-world edge rusher Khalil Mack playing through an ankle injury, this formerly stingy unit simply can’t get off the field in key situations. Might the coaching staff take a chance on resting Mack with the sluggish offences of the Jets and Bills on the horizon?
2. Thanks to strong special teams play, the Patriots overcame a pair of lost fumbles by Cordarrelle Patterson and Sony Michel that placed them in a 17-7 hole early in the second quarter. Patterson quickly earned redemption with a 95-yard kickoff return, the sixth such touchdown of the return ace’s career. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy broke a 24-24 tie in the middle of the third quarter, scooping up Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt for New England’s first touchdown of that nature since 1996. Due in large part to the special teams scores, the Patriots reached at least 21 points by halftime and 38 points total for the fourth consecutive game — the latter figure setting a new franchise record. This is an injury-ravaged offence yet to click on all cylinders, but the team is finding ways to move the chains, generate big plays and outscore opponents on a weekly basis. The Pats travel to Buffalo for a date with the reeling Bills before hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 9.
Pats quarterback Tom Brady. Picture: GettySource:AFP
3. Already playing without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady seemed destined to continue leaning heavily on the backfield tandem of James White and rookie Sony Michel, gashing the Bears defence on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the festivities. That plan was dashed when Michel’s lower leg was twisted on the second-quarter play which resulted in a lost fumble. After posting three straight games of 100 or more yards, Michel was quickly downgraded from questionable to out, a sign that he may be unavailable for the foreseeable future. The Pats have already lost Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead to injured reserve, leaving recently re-signed scatback Kenjon Barner to function as the between-the-tackles complement to White for the game’s final three quarters. Look for New England to add a power back this week, perhaps re-signing Mike Gillislee.
White was the offence’s player of the game, accounting for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a regular-season career-high 19 touches. Although the connection between Brady and Josh Gordon remains sporadic, the former Browns wideout led the team with 100 yards on four receptions, including a tackle-breaking 55-yard catch-and-run that set up White’s 2-yard touchdown catch to cap off a nine-play, 96-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. Gordon’s importance to Brady’s aerial attack is growing by the week.
– Chris Wesseling
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26, Cleveland Browns 23 (OT)
1. Give Cleveland (2-4-1) this much: They’re the polar opposite of dull.
On Sunday, though, intrigue simply wasn’t enough as the team’s fourth foray into overtime ended in failure after a fumbled punt return by Jabrill Peppers set up a game-winning, 59-yard field by Chandler Catanzaro. Tampa’s kicker was redeemed after botching a 40-yard try as regulation expired. Catanzaro also missed an extra point.
It was a game imbued with a thousand storylines, not the least among them Jameis Winston’s struggles in overtime, as Tampa’s quarterback threw a killer interception — one of four Bucs turnovers on the day — and unfurled a fleet of off-kilter darts. Winston played well in regulation, though, finding Mike Evans (7/107), Chris Godwin (5/59) and O.J. Howard (6/67) time and again. A juicy, 14-yard end-around touchdown by DeSean Jackson helped the Bucs build a 9-2 lead, but the deep threat went 60-plus minutes before his first grab. Winston threw for 365 yards on the day and piled up 55 yards on the ground. He also lost the ball on a third-quarter strip by Myles Garrett and nearly lost the game with a shaky final few minutes. Here in the newsroom, colleague Gregg Rosenthal was miffed to see Tampa (3-3) play for that ill-fated field goal at the end of regulation instead of trying for the touchdown with less than a minute to play.
222 kicks made… he misses0:00
NFL: Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker had kicked a perfect 222/222 extra points in his career. The Ravens needed the extra point to tie the game late and he missed his first extra point attempt in his career.
2. After authoring their worst half of the year on offence, the Browns played some of their best football yet down the stretch. They’re banged up at wideout and the line has issues, but Cleveland always seems to have a chance with Baker Mayfield at the controls. The first-overall pick threw for just 62 first-half yards, but bounced back to lob a scoring strike to tight end David Njoku and author a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown march to bring Cleveland within 23-16 of Tampa. From there, Mayfield galvanised the team with a surging, 35-yard scramble in the fourth quarter, but that potential game-tying drive fell to pieces when the signal-caller was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal sneak. Mayfield would not be denied, though, unfurling a dart one drive later to Jarvis Landry (10/97/1), who fell into the end zone after making a beautiful game-tying grab to cap his best outing of the year. On the ground, newly anointed bell-cow Nick Chubb (18/80/1) ran with raw power in a post-Carlos Hyde world. He’s fun to watch.
3. Two embattled coaching staffs went at each other on Sunday. It was concerning to see Tampa’s Dirk Koetter throw the red challenge flag in overtime — a forbidden move — that cost the Bucs their final timeout. The Browns, meanwhile, were crushed by 14 penalties for a whopping 114 yards. Hue Jackson also lost a key challenge in the second half. That said, this Cleveland roster is laced with tangible young talent, especially on defence. Christian Kirksey and Genard Avery recovered fumbles — Kirksey and Jamie Collins registered picks — and Emmanuel Ogbah was a difference-maker.
– Marc Sessler
Carolina Panthers 21, Philadelphia Eagles 17
1. After sleep walking through the first three quarters, the Panthers’ offence hit the alarm clock in the final period and scored three touchdowns to overcome a 17-0 deficit en route to the win. Quarterback Cam Newton shook off a sluggish start to lead the charge, ripping off his suit and donning his Superman cape to propel the Panthers (4-2) for the comeback victory.
In the fourth quarter alone, Newton completed 16 of 22 passes for 201 passes and two touchdowns with a 131.1 passer rating, and his biggest play occurred on the game-winning drive. Facing a fourth-and-10 with 2:06 remaining in the game, Newton displayed poise while facing the Eagles’ pass rush before connecting with wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 35-yard gain. Newton capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen, and finished the game completing 25 of 39 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, adding 49 yards rushing on seven carries.
2. Like the offence, the Panthers’ defence had issues early in the game. Through the first three quarters, Carolina had no answer for the Eagles’ offence, which finished the game with an edge in time of possession (35:17 to 24:42). The Panthers were also on the bad end of an Eagles’ 17-play, 94-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, which had Carolina looking up at a 17-0 deficit, marking the second straight week the Panthers had to crawl out of an identical hole.
But like the offence, the defence turned on the in the final period, holding the Eagles (3-4) to just 22 yards of total offence and recording two sacks on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The Panthers rose to the occasion in the final minute with the Eagles marching in the red zone by coming up with sack-fumble of Wentz to ice the contest. On the game, the Eagles sacked Wentz four times and recorded six quarterback hits.
3. The winds were swirling at Lincoln Financial Field, but Wentz basically shrugged aside the elements with a seamless performance to help the Eagles run out to an early lead. Through the first three quarters, Wentz had his way with the Panthers’ pass defence, completing 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
The third-year quarterback was on fire from the start of the game, at one point completing 15 consecutive passes, en route to finishing the game completing 30 of 37 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Wentz’s favourite target was tight end Zach Ertz, who hauled in nine catches for 138 yards on 11 targets, while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery chipped in with seven catches for 88 yards on 10 targets. Unfortunately for Wentz and the offence, the Eagles’ defence couldn’t stop the late-charging Panthers offence after holding Carolina in check for most of the game.
– Herbie Teope
Detroit Lions 32, Miami Dolphins 21
1. The offseason plans to upgrade the ground game in Detroit came to fruition in a smashing effort in South Beach. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson blasted through, around and over Dolphins (4-3) defenders all game. The second-round pick paced the Lions (3-3) with 158 yards on the ground — his second 100-plus yard rushing performance of the season — for a gaudy 8.3 yards per carry average on 19 totes. Johnson’s 71-yard gallop in the first quarter displayed the running back’s jet-powered burst through the hole. Detroit spent the offseason upgrading the rushing attack, adding Johnson, LeGarrette Blount (50 yards, TD) and first-round offensive lineman Frank Ragnow. The plan worked like a charm Sunday as the offensive line opened huge holes, and the backs made defenders miss in space and pinballed for extra yards. As a team, the Lions galloped for a whopping 248 rushing yards. The ability to churn out yards took pressure off Matthew Stafford’s shoulders. Detroit generated 24 first downs with 8.2 average yards per play on 56 snaps before end-game kneel-downs. Six games into the season, this is the type of offensive balance Detroit planned entering the year.
Reporter takes ball to the head and smoothly carries on0:00
NFL: A reporter for the NFL Network took a stray ball to the back of the head and carries on with her live cross like nothing even happened.
2. Brocktober took a fall, but Brock Osweiler wasn’t the Dolphins problem Sunday. While he rarely tested Detroit down the field, the quarterback made enough quick throws to move the chains consistently enough, if Miami’s defence had done anything to slow the Lions (Detroit punted once all game and scored on each of its four second-half possessions). Osweiler made a gorgeous touchdown toss to Kenny Stills in the back of the end zone in the first half. He later darted a laser to Danny Amendola on the move to close the scoring gap deep into the fourth quarter. It’s clear Adam Gase has a bead on how to milk the most out of Osweiler while eliminating game-changing mistakes. Kenyan Drake blasting off for a 54-yard touchdown run, displayed that the Dolphins can move the ball well enough, and get a sprinkle of explosive plays, with Brock under centre.
3. The Dolphins exited Sunday’s tilt banged up at receiver. Self-proclaimed YAC king Albert Wilson left the game in the first half after a 25-yard catch-and-run with a leg injury that looked bad. The wideout was heavily in the game-plan early with two rushing attempts and three catches on the first four drives before suffering the injury. Wideout Kenny Stills then walked to the locker room with an injury during the Dolphins’ final drive. With DeVante Parker inactive, the injuries left Miami with just two healthy receivers dressed on their concluding possession. With trade rumours swirling about Parker, the Dolphins might need the former first-round pick to finally play a role if Wilson’s injury turns out to be a long-term issue.
– Kevin Patra
Houston Texans 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 7
1. The story of this is the benching of Blake Bortles, because quarterback news — and news related to the polarising Bortles — is hot in this league. But make no mistake: Jacksonville (3-4), as a football team, looks nothing like the team that took down New England a month ago.
The conversation after the game was filled with questions of if the Jaguars were panicking, and Telvin Smith requested reporters “don’t ask us to point fingers,” presumably at each other.
“We’re figuring out who we are,” Smith explained, before acknowledging he’d sound like Tim Tebow and then promising a better team in the second half of the season. Whether it’s Bortles or Cody Kessler under centre remains to be seen, but Jacksonville needs a retreat with heart-to-hearts and a kumbaya circle right now. Their identity is lost. Here’s hoping Smith is right, for the Jaguars’ sake.
2. Jacksonville’s complete lack of a running game is killing their offence. So are drops. And routes run short of the sticks on third down. And most of all, turnovers. Doug Marrone railed against it in the postgame presser and rightfully so, pointing out the obvious in the process: A negative turnover differential will, in most games, produce a loss.
“For me, it’s on everyone,” Marrone said in reference to his change at quarterback and his team’s loss.
But back to the running game. T.J. Yeldon, best suited as a change-of-pace back, has been forced to carry an incredible load and understandably struggled to do so. He dropped a pass that ended up in a Kessler interception, and gained just 28 yards on 12 attempts. Carlos Hyde can’t get up to speed fast enough as Leonard Fournette’s absence becomes more and more damaging with each week.
3. Now, onto the winners. Deshaun Watson has to thank his lucky stars for a guy like De’Andre Hopkins, who has one of the widest catch radiuses in football. Hopkins was routinely winning one-on-one matchups with Jalen Ramsey early in the game, and though he only finished with three receptions, one of them extended a key early drive, and another one went for a touchdown. Combined with Will Fuller, Watson has at least two solid targets to throw to. Oh, and welcome back, Lamar Miller, who rushed for 100 yards for the first time this season and scored a touchdown on 22 carries. In a season filled with heart-stopping wins and losses, the Texans deserved a smooth victory. They earned that Sunday.
– Nick Shook
Minnesota Vikings 37, New York Jets 17
1. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a free-agent quarterback seeking good fortune must be in want of a front-running team. The Vikings’ performance against the Jets (3-4) showcased why the Cousins chose Minnesota (4-2-1) over the work-in-progress Jets. Both teams had their struggles in the blustery conditions of MetLife Stadium, but the Vikings’ experience and talent on both sides of the ball overcame the Jets’ best efforts. Cousins had a steady if humdrum performance that shouldn’t have instilled any feelings of regret from the Jets’ faithful. He finished the game connecting on 25 of 40 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns against New York’s No. 22-ranked pass defence. After slicing through the Jets’ defence on the first drive of the game, Cousins struggled to find rhythm as the Vikings settled for punts on six of the next seven possessions before halftime. It took until the middle of third quarter for Cousins to tap into the efficiency that has him on pace for the best season of his career. Completing passes to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Zylstra, Cousins put together an impressive nine-play, 74-yard drive that demonstrated why he is among the NFL leaders in completion percentage, passing yards, TD-INT ratio and 300-yard games. Late in the game, Thielen tied Charley Hennigan’s NFL record for the most 100-plus yard games to start a season with seven when he caught a 21-yard pass. Thielen finished with 110 yards on nine catches and Diggs added 33 yards on eight catches as the Vikings posted their third consecutive win.
2. Sam Darnold continues to show the jagged promise that has characterised his first seven games in the NFL. Darnold spun a handful of really nice passes while putting up a bunch of haphazard throws. The first of his three interceptions came when he tried to target Robby Anderson while he was being covered by Pro Bowlers Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith — which turned into an easy pick for Smith after it deflected off Rhodes’ hands in the gusty conditions. Darnold took more risks as the Jets’ chances for a comeback diminished and it transformed what was a relatively close game on the scoreboard into a huge deficit by the middle of the fourth quarter. Darnold finishing with very rookie-like 17-of-42 passing for 206 yards and a touchdown. He also ran in a touchdown. While the offensive line provided decent protection, the running game couldn’t provide balance. Isaiah Crowell, two weeks removed from his 200-yard performance against the Denver Broncos, was held to 29 yards on 11 carries and Bilal Powell had just five carries before leaving with a neck injury.
3. Dalvin Cook sat this one out because of a hamstring injury, but Latavius Murray had a solid game running the ball. Murray finished with 69 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for the Vikings. Linebacker Anthony Barr left the game in the second half with a hamstring, and it’ll be something to monitor moving forward. Rhodes exited late while battling Anderson in coverage on a fourth quarter pass but was standing on the sideline in the final minutes of the game. With the temperature on the Vikings’ schedule about to go up a notch (upcoming games against Saints, Lions, Bears, Packers, Patriots), Minnesota’s win keeps them in the top echelon of the NFC hierarchy.
– Austin Knoblauch
Indianapolis Colts 37, Buffalo Bills 5
1. Buffalo’s defence, the pride of a beleaguered Bills (2-5) team, forgot to board the plane to Indianapolis. Colts (2-5) quarterback Andrew Luck completed 17 of 23 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns (passer rating: 131.5), but the bigger point is the Colts’ running game, which racked up 220 yards on 37 attempts, including a 19-carry, 126-yard, one-touchdown day from Marlon Mack. The runner ripped off gains of 23, 15 and 10 over the course of the game, punctuating an Indianapolis ground game that ran the Bills into submission and provided excellent balance from which Luck could operate.
2. Luck has to be extra thankful to have T.Y. Hilton (four catches, 25 yards, two touchdowns) back in the fold. His value to this offence is undeniable and was immediately noticeable Sunday. Hilton did what he often does: Found soft spots in zones, made contested catches and adjusted on the fly to give his scrambling quarterback an open target. The last resulted in a touchdown, and the others brought much-needed balance to a Colts passing game that was overly reliant on its tight ends in recent weeks. Speaking of tight ends, Frank Reich is using his tight ends to the fullest. Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope have been a nice one-two punch at the position.
3. Buffalo’s offence was abysmal, especially after losing LeSean McCoy to a head injury early in the first half (though Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy did admirable jobs, rushing for 134 yards on 20 carries). That made an already uphill climb seem mountainous for Derek Anderson, whose stat line looks much worse than the majority of his day actually was. Anderson’s final two interceptions came in garbage time, but his first (and Buffalo’s offensive ineptitude) had some ready to turn to the game when hearing Nathan Peterman had his helmet on at the start of the third quarter. That was just a false alarm, though Buffalo’s offence wasn’t much better with Anderson.
– Nick Shook
Los Angeles Chargers 20, Tennessee Titans 19
1. In a game that featured fits of scoring interrupted by periods of offensive malaise, the Chargers (5-2) found ways to stay one step ahead in securing their fourth straight victory. With Melvin Gordon not playing because of a hamstring injury, Philip Rivers once again was the catalyst for the offence. He finished the game connecting on 19 of 26 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that started off fast before fading to allow the game to slide into the clutches of a nail-biting finish. Rivers’ 75-yard touchdown pass to Tyrell Williams in the first quarter helped the Chargers jump out to the lead and Mike Williams’ 55-yard touchdown early in the third quarter gave Los Angeles a 17-6 lead. But the Titans responded almost immediately with what was their best drive of the game — a seven-play, 42-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard TD run by Derrick Henry. From there, the Chargers’ defence kept things under control until Titans’ final drive and subsequent failed two-point conversion attempt locked in the win for Los Angeles. The Chargers’ wide receiver corps played a key role in the victory with the trio of Williams, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams combining for 245 receiving yards. Austin Ekeler helped out with 46 yards on the ground and 26 receiving yards.
Wembley Stadium in all its glory. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham)Source:AP
2. The Chargers’ consistency on offence and special teams ended up giving them a slight edge. The Titans were plagued by drives sputtering out at midfield during the first half before finding more success in the second half behind a stronger performance by Marcus Mariota. The quarterback, who threw the first red-zone interception of his career just before halftime, managed to keep the Titans in the contest and finished the game completing 24 of 32 passes for 237 yards and a TD. The effort was complemented by a strong rushing effort by Dion Lewis, who tallied 91 yards on 13 carries — a huge chunk of which came on a spectacular, 36-yard, tackle-shedding run on the Titans’ final scoring drive. Ultimately, though, Tennessee’s relative quietness on offence in the first half coupled with Ryan Succop missing a 54-yard field goal hurt the team’s chances of a comeback.
3. Titans coach Mike Vrabel will have a long trip home to ponder what might have been. The first-year head coach went bold in his attempt to steal a victory at Wembley Field by going for two after Luke Stocker’s 1-yard TD catch pulled the team to within one point of the lead. But Mariota failed to connect on a bullet of a pass to Taywan Taylor in tight coverage, and the Titans didn’t get a chance to fully showcase the resilience that was a hallmark of their first three wins. Instead, Tennessee drops its third straight game following a pair of head-scratching losses to the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens.
“Go win the game,” Lewis told reporters after the game. “He’s told us that since training camp, that he’s going to be aggressive, he’s going to trust us. I think any team you want that. You want your coach to trust you that way and put the game in your hands and unfortunately it didn’t work out. It worked out in the past. You live by it, you die by it, and we just going to keep riding.”
It’s always easy to criticise a coach’s gutsy decision to “go for it” when things don’t work out, but Vrabel’s gut instinct did work well during the team’s improbable overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. Vrabel almost certainly doesn’t care (or doesn’t know) the Titans have failed to convert on their last seven two-point attempts dating back to 2015. The Titans might be the NFL’s best 3-4 team or they could be considered only a couple plays away from being a 1-6 squad following skin-of-their teeth performances against the Eagles and Texans. The true measure of the Titans will come when they manage to pull together a consistent effort — something that’s been lacking so far. Once that happens, they might see the level of respect Taylor Lewan forcefully asserted they were worthy of three weeks ago.
– Austin Knoblauch
Los Angeles Rams 39, San Francisco 49ers 10
1. Flexed out of its original slot in Sunday Night Football, Sunday’s Rams-49ers Jimmy G-less afternoon clash in Santa Clara was merely a formality. Los Angeles outclassed its division rivals in all three phases, taking advantage of Niners turnovers and picking apart their defence all day long. The Rams remained undefeated first and foremost thanks to Aaron Donald and their takeaway-happy defence. Donald recorded four of Los Angeles’ seven sacks of C.J. Beathard, his most in a single game, and doubled his season sack total to eight. The Rams linebackers, oft derided as the defence’s weak link, were flying around in San Francisco’s backfield, too. Corey Littleton tallied two sacks; Samson Ebukam forced a fumble on a strip sack; and Mark Barron played enforcer. L.A. forced four Niners turnovers and those into 24 crucial points. The front seven’s strong showing was a necessary bulwark against a 49ers’ deep passing game that had success against Green Bay and could have exploited a short-staffed Rams secondary. The result? L.A. throttled its NFC West counterparts despite compiling a season-low 331 total yards on offence.
2. It’s time to ignite Todd Gurley touchdown watch (#TGTW for the youths). Fresh off his first career 200-yard rushing game last week, the Rams running back made more history Sunday. Gurley scored three more touchdowns in Santa Clara to up his season total to 14, tied for the most through seven games in NFL history. It was the 10th consecutive regular season game in which TGIII has tallied a TD and his third game this season in which he’s scored at least three touchdowns. Gurley is on pace for 32 total TDs on the season, one more than the record set by then-Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. In an era flush with dual-threat, pass-catching backs, Gurley has stood out over the past two seasons as the most consistent and dominant, and that extends to his end zone prowess.
3. It’s a lost season for San Francisco. Now six games behind the division-leading Rams, the Niners have proven week after week that they do not belong in the playoff conversation — with or without the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Blame it on a roster besieged by injuries. The Niners were without big-money signings Garoppolo and Richard Sherman and safety Jimmie Ward heading into Sunday. They lost their other star safety Adrian Colbert to a nasty lower leg injury. Second-year stud Reuben Foster exited with a shoulder injury at one point. So did breakout back Matt Breida (ankle) — again. It’s time to pack it in, San Francisco, and play for pride and draft picks, but little else.
– Jeremy Bergman
Originally published as NFL wrap: Wembley thriller, Bowl champs’ meltdown
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