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Takeaways from the Broncos’ tense week 10 MNF win in Buffalo

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The 12th man used to be Russell Wilson’s fans in the stands at Lumen Field in Seattle helping his Seahawks get wins, last night a literal 12th man helped his Denver Broncos go into Buffalo and beat the Bills on primetime television. 

When the Broncos were 0-3 coming off a 70-point battering in week three no one would have seen this team turning their season around to win three straight games including wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and away at the Bills. 

But here we are, the momentum is with the Broncos, even out of their bye week and they go into a stretch now with four winnable games and every chance of breaking into the playoffs in a strange AFC picture.

Three-game win streak 

The Broncos went into their week seven game against the Green Bay Packers with a 1-5 record and everyone wanted them to ‘blow it up’ and trade away all their assets ready to rebuild for the future (again since their Super Bowl 50 win). 

Instead, four weeks later they’re a 4-5 football team with 10 turnovers in three games, five against Andy Reid’s Chiefs and four against the Josh Allen-lead Bills. 

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The offence has ticked along well enough and the defence has played exceptionally well recently even in the week six loss away at the Chiefs before this run. 

It’s somewhat of a cliche in the modern NFL but it’s true nonetheless, it’s all about getting hot at the right time and the Broncos are very much heating up at the right time in this season.

Primetime W

The Broncos didn’t just win, they were the better team, on the road at one of the AFC’s preseason favourites, in a primetime window! 

The Broncos haven’t often had primetime games in recent years and it’s not a surprise when you look at their performances every season since they won the Super Bowl in 2016. 

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When they have had the opportunity to play on national TV they have performed awfully in that time, but under Sean Payton, they’re currently 1-1 in primetime and head into their first home primetime game of his reign next Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings who are on a hot streak themselves.

The performance deserved a win as well, despite the close scoreline, the Broncos recorded four takeaways and missed two extra-point tries, it was run closer than it should have been but the Broncos managed to get over the line nonetheless.

The more the Broncos can perform under the lights in primetime, the better, for their standing amongst those that drive the narratives in the NFL. 

Defence playing lights out 

In their first five weeks of the season, the Broncos defence gave up 181 points, at an average of 36 points per game (give or take). 

In the following four games, including a doubleheader against the Chiefs and a trip to Buffalo, the Broncos have given up just 67 points at an average of just under 17 points per game. 

The turnaround from Vance Joseph and his defensive unit has been almost unprecedented and they have been the lifeblood of the change in fortunes for this team, early in the season they were losing tight games because of defensive errors but now the defence is getting them over the line in tight games, like Monday Night Football.

Inconsistent special teams 

Despite the feel-good factor around this team, they’re still a long way off, from being a contender and there is still a lot of work to be done before this team can pose a genuine threat to any of the AFC’s elite teams on a consistent basis. 

On the one hand, the special teams are performing admirably, Marvin Mims had an excellent game with three really nice punt returns setting the offence up with great field position. 

But conversely, Will Lutz missed two kicks (one which was brought back), in admittedly tough weather conditions, and they had one fumbled snap on an extra point try which ended up as a dead play. 

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Throughout the year Mims has been brilliant on kick and punt returns, averaging the highest yards per return in both categories with 20.7 yards per punt return (four yards more than the next best) and 33.6 yards per kick return. 

As for Will Lutz, he overcame his disappointing field goal miss in week one against the Raiders, which cost the Broncos that win, and has had a pretty decent year up until Monday night. 

Lutz has an 88.2 extra point percentage, the worst in the NFL by some margin out of 32 eligible kickers, while averaging a fairly middle-of-the-road, 89.5 field goal percentage.

If the Broncos can become more consistent in the kicking game then they might find themselves on the positive side of these tight games even more often down the stretch.

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Need to be ruthless on offence 

If this team is to reach the playoffs and then eventually go on to win a playoff game then they have to start being more ruthless off of takeaways on offence. 

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The Broncos didn’t score off of any of the four takeaways from the Bills last night and as a result, had to scrape past Buffalo in what should have been a routine and dominant performance like week eight against the Chiefs. 

If the Broncos had played a more polished kicking game and been ruthless on even 50% of their takeaways we could have been looking at another blowout of one of the AFC’s poster teams from the last few years. 

Week 11 preview

From being 1-5, down and out, ready to pull up mock draft simulators, all of a sudden, four weeks later, the Broncos are back in playoff conversations looking at a stretch of four winnable, but competitive games. 

Next week the Broncos welcome the resurgent Minnesota Vikings, spearheaded by Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Joshua Dobbs who is having a stellar year. 

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The Vikings may be without star receiver Justin Jefferson, but rookie Jordan Addison has filled in for the former LSU star and he will be a threat for this Broncos secondary to try and shut down. 

Defensively the Vikings have shutdown their opponents on the way to their five-game winning streak and they’re building up a head of steam in a bad NFC landscape, albeit against the Bears, Packers and Saints, as well as the Falcons and the talented 49ers (a feather in their cap).

On Sunday Night Football the nation, and the rest of the world, will be watching, as one of these teams’ playoff hopes takes a dent and someone’s streak ends, at Mile High.

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PICK SIX – Week 10

That was Week 10, folks. Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler have picked six topics for discussion: the final International Series game in Germany, late wins for the Browns and the Texans, a return to form for the 49ers, Cee Dee Lamb bigging himself up and clutch kickers. What more could you ask for?

It’s not how you start

I make no apologies for taking up more column inches with another piece about the Cleveland Browns. Years of misery will mean that clinging to the first sign of success is almost inevitable so here we are again. The point this week though is for the longest time, it felt like I would be writing about another Baltimore win in this one-sided rivalry. Quite literally the longest time…

Somewhat aptly for this column, Deshaun Watson threw a pick six with his first pass of the day. Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton tipped the pass intended for David Njoku up in the air, collected the ricochet himself and took it to the end zone. Just 40 seconds were on the game clock and Baltimore had the lead, one they held for the remaining 59 minutes and 20 seconds. The only problem? The Browns took their first and only lead of the day as the clock struck zeroes, when Dustin Hopkins drilled a 40-yard game-winning field goal. It is the longest time any team has trailed and gone on to win a game since 2000.

Plenty happened in between these bookend plays. The Browns overcame two separate 14-point deficits and a 15-point deficit, including being down by two touchdowns with just nine minutes left. They muffed a punt inside their own 10-yard line, extended a Baltimore scoring drive twice by giving up back-breaking penalties on third down plays and missed an extra point when attempting to tie the game. It came down to a final drive when down by a solitary point, with just over four minutes remaining.

Watson was sacked on a first down play but was able to connect with Amari Cooper on 2nd and 19 for a 17-yard gain. A few runs later, one of which featured Jerome Ford being pushed by literally the entire Browns offense for seven or eight yards more than he had any right to pick up, the stage was set for Hopkins to redeem himself and secure the defining win of the Kevin Stefanski era. The Browns and Steelers are now just half a game back from the Ravens as we enter a huge week in the AFC North. [SB]

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Houston, we are a problem

Before the season kicked off, I bet many Bengals fans looked at the schedule and marked the matchup with the Houston Texans, coming off a 3-13-1 season, as a home win. Well, those prognosticators will be tucking into some very humble pie right about now.

Last week, I described this Texans outfit as young, feisty and fun. As a Cincy fan who’s just watched his team lose 30-27 to a walk-off field goal, the “fun” bit is sticking in my throat a little. But if I take my tiger-striped goggles off for a second, there can be no denying that’s exactly what they are.

Cincinnati could point to the absence of Sam Hubbard and Tee Higgins, plus Ja’Marr Chase’s bad back, as possible factors in their below-par performance. Joe Burrow struggled to find a safe pair of hands, other than two 64-yard plays: when Chase – double-teamed for most of the contest but still able to rack up 124 receiving yards from five catches – raced away for a score, plus a catch-and-run by Tyler Boyd (117 receiving yards). Boyd also had two uncharacteristic drops, one of which might have been the game-winning TD.

That said, their opponents had personnel issues too, with both Nico Collins and Dameon Pierce missing and Derek Stingley Jr coming back from IR after eight weeks out. But while the Bengals looked out of sorts, there were no such woes for Houston, who stuck more than 550 total yards on their hosts.

Devin Singletary rushed for a career-high 150 yards and a score on 30 carries, despite the team entering the game 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Noah Brown proved he’s more 7Eleven (“always open”) than Ja’Marr Chase with 172 receiving yards on just seven receptions, beating his own career high set only last week. Stroud (356 passing yards, 1 TD/1 INT and a rushing TD) averaged 11.9 air yards per attempt and out-threw Burrow (347 yards, 2 TDs/2 INTs).

This isn’t a post-mortem of the 5-4 Bengals, who have no time to lick their wounds before Thursday’s divisional showdown with the Ravens, but rather a celebration of the Texans. They just kept finding ways to succeed, whether it was stand-in kicker Matt Ammendola making three FGs on his debut or Sheldon Rankins getting three sacks. With four wins in their last five, Houston (5-4) have now crept above Cincinnati and into the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, and are looking more than worthy of it. Underestimate them at your peril. [ST]

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Get your kicks on

Dustin Hopkins has already had some love today so now it’s time to praise a few more kickers. It seems as though some additional ice was injected into their veins this weekend as five games were decided by a field goal as time expired. That’s a new NFL record on a single day, with three being the previous high mark. Hats off to all of those guys that truly proved that kickers are people too.

Hopkins’ game-winner came from 40 yards out as the Browns won on the road in Baltimore. Two more kickers ignored the jeers of the home supporters to lead their teams to victories on the road. Matt Ammendola kicked a 38-yarder for the Texans after another exquisite CJ Stroud final drive positioned Houston to complete a deserved upset against the Bengals. Elsewhere, Riley Patterson was the Lions hero as they outlasted the Chargers in a shootout. Credit must go to Dan Campbell who gambled on a fourth down despite being in field goal range when dialling up a pass play to Sam LaPorta. The play worked and ensured that Justin Herbert would not get a chance to respond. The last five Chargers possessions resulted in touchdowns but the defense just could not get a stop.

Then there was Jason Myers slotting from 43 yards away for Seattle to defeat the Commanders. Geno Smith and DK Metcalf took over the final 50 seconds of the game to put the Seahawks into position after Washington had tied the game, with Sam Howell again playing well. The final one on Sunday went to Matt Prater who chipped one in from 23 yards for the Cardinals to give Kyler Murray a return-to-action win. The final drive saw a brilliant Murray scramble on a 3rd and 10 play where, as we have become accustomed to, he danced around in the backfield dodging tackles before officially recording a 13-yard rush. A real sign of encouragement for Arizona fans that he was able to do this in his first game back after his ACL injury.

And we still have time for more kicker respect. On Monday Night Football, Wil Lutz became this week’s sixth kicker to deliver a walk-off winner, as the Broncos’ mini-revival continued with victory over the floundering Bills. Buffalo even generously put 12 men on the field to allow Lutz the luxury of a practice attempt, which he pushed wide right. The mistake proved incredibly costly as a redo from five yards closer split the uprights and gave the Broncos a 24-22 win. [SB]

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Has big Mac had his chips?

When this year’s International Series games were announced, some UK fans bemoaned the fact that we were given the Falcons and the Titans while our German cousins could look forward to seeing the Dolphins, Chiefs, Colts and Patriots. Had that been the Andrew Luck-era Colts or the New England that won seven Super Bowls under Tom Brady, they might have had a point. But the 2023 Colts and Pats are an entirely different kettle of fish. In short, they’re both a bit rubbish and I didn’t envy anyone in Frankfurt one bit.

The final score of Indianapolis 10-6 New England tells you everything you need to know about the league’s 50th regular-season contest outside the United States. But if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s more. Indy’s 10 points were a season low, Gardner Minshew threw an interception but no touchdowns and they converted just five third downs. Yet the Patriots somehow contrived to be worse, with Mac Jones’ latest horror interception at the 1-yard line earning him a spot on the bench for the final drive, during which his replacement Bailey Zappe threw into triple coverage for another pick. Jones also took five sacks before halftime, with Dayo Odeyingbo responsible for three of them.

The win, unglamourous and unimpressive as it was, at least leaves the Colts at 5-5 and still within the ‘In the hunt’ playoff bracket. As for the 2-8 Pats, Bill Belichick equalling his worst-ever start – alongside his first season as HC back in 2000 – leaves them propping up the AFC.

And where does this latest demotion leave Mac Jones as the Pats head into a bye week, I hear you ask? After the game, Belichick told reporters that he “thought it was time for a change”. He also declined to say who would start in Week 12 against the Giants. Even if a week off gives the team a chance to work a few things out after three straight losses, I can’t say I envy anyone with a ticket to that game either! [ST]

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Bye week big winners

The scene was set on Sunday for the Jaguars to stake their claim as genuine Super Bowl contenders. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers reminded everyone that they are very much in that conversation.

Both of these teams were fresh from a bye week, and it’s safe to say that both were trending in opposite directions. The Jags had won five straight after successfully navigating a London tour and the follow-up schedule without a bye week. The Niners were riding a three-game losing streak and many people were starting to question the legitimacy of them as a team and Brock Purdy as the quarterback in particular.

If you did not know which team was playing in which colour, you would be excused for getting the teams mixed up. San Francisco dominated from start to finish. They forced a three-and-out on defense to start the game and then began their own offensive day with a touchdown, Purdy finding Brandon Aiyuk for the score. They went on to record four turnovers on the day, limiting the Jags to just a solitary field goal. Brock Purdy returned to form with a three-touchdown day while piling up 296 yards through the air. George Kittle was huge, Deebo Samuel was back and perhaps the biggest surprise on the day was that Christian McCaffrey didn’t find the end zone for the first time in living memory.

All of a sudden, the Jaguars have the upstart Houston Texans nipping at their heels in the AFC South. The Jags offense has been a concern for a while now and Trevor Lawrence has seemingly not taken the big leap forward we’d have expected in year three. He was responsible for two interceptions and a fumble in this one, leaving yet more questions on the table as we head towards the business end of the season.

On the other hand, the Niners stay atop of the NFC West with the same record as Seattle. I have no doubt that San Francisco is by far the superior team out of those two outfits and expect them to carry this momentum forward into their upcoming head-to-heads in the next month. [SB]

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Cee Dee sets new records

With the Dallas Cowboys again honouring veterans on the NFL’s Salute to Service weekend with red, white and blue stripes on their helmets, let’s also honour wide receiver Cee Dee Lamb’s performance. By his own admission, he is the best. “I’m the top receiver in this game,” he confidently announced after their 49-17 demolition of the New York Giants. “There’s no question about it.”    

OK then, let’s check the facts behind his claims. Having snagged 11 balls for 151 receiving yards, plus posting a receiving and rushing touchdown, on Sunday, he became the first player since at least 1970 to catch 10+ passes for 150+ yards in three consecutive games. And to show how hot his current streak is, since Week 6, the wideout leads the NFL with 617 receiving yards, despite Dallas having a bye during that span, and has had four straight games with 100-plus receiving yards. So yeah, he’s got a strong case for being WR1 in the league at the moment.

Maybe rolling over the feeble Giants isn’t all that impressive but scoring seven TDs, posting 640 total yards, outgaining their opponents by 468 yards and recording 32 first downs can’t be bad, whoever you’re facing. So let’s also salute HC Mike McCarthy and OC Brian Schottenheimer as they swept the Giants by a combined score of 89-17 this season.

While Lamb was pretty much unguardable wherever he popped up, he wasn’t the only star to shine at AT&T. Brandin Cooks bashed out 173 yards and a TD on nine catches, while Michael Gallup added 70 and a score on just two receptions. If all three wideouts can stay in sync with an on-point Dak Prescott (404 passing yards, 4 TDs/1 INT), the Cowboys offense could really cause some damage down the stretch.

Dallas’ home winning streak has now been extended to 12 games, currently the league’s longest run, but there’s a caveat: this year’s victories have come against the Raiders, Jets, Patriots, Rams and Giants… hardly the toughest of tests. The real challenges lie ahead, with the Seahawks, Eagles and Lions waiting in line. If Lamb, Prescott and the rest can dispatch them, then we’re going to have to tip our cap, raise a flag and set off a 21-gun salute to America’s Team. [ST]

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Bye Week Takeaways: Can the Broncos make a playoff push?

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No news is good news through the post-trade deadline bye week and the Broncos are still boasting that two-game win streak heading into week 10. 

Sean Payton’s team have the added benefit of playing their week 10 matchup against the  Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, giving them one of the longest possible in-season breaks. 

Payton said after the 24-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that he had taken a leaf from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s book and the players would be in for film study on Monday morning but then have the rest of the week off before getting prepared for the Bills matchup this week. 

So where do the Broncos go after their bye and do they have a shot at the playoffs? 

The first four games 

The Broncos opened up the Sean Payton era in a calamitous fashion, losing their first three games and seemingly eliminating themselves from any playoff discussions before their campaign had kicked off. 

In the opening two weeks, the Broncos lost by a point to the Las Vegas Raiders (their seventh in a row vs the Raiders) and lost on a failed two-point conversion after a miraculous hail mary attempt in week two at home to the Washington Commanders. 

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In week three, things got even worse, when the Broncos’ defence made history for all the wrong reasons. They gave up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins and allowed the most total yards of any team in the history of the NFL. 

Things continued to look bleak through the first three-quarters of week four in Chicago as well until the defence finally checked in for the season and produced two massive fourth-quarter turnovers to help the Broncos chalk up their first win of the season.

The losses to the Commanders and the Raiders (both at home) could come back to kick the Broncos as they now look to mount an unlikely, uphill charge for the playoffs. If those two games had gone in the favour of Denver – which they should have done on the balance of play – the Broncos would be 5-3 right now. 

Rebuilding next four-game 

Moving away from the hypothetical, and back to reality, the Broncos faced the near-impossible task of overturning their poor start around to give them some hope of resurrecting their season.

Up first was the Nathaniel Hackett New York Jets at Mile High stadium and a game that could have been a momentum shifter turned into a banana skin. The Broncos dropped to 1-4 after losing 31-21 thanks to a late defensive touchdown from the Jets made the game look worse than it was on the box score. 

Next up on a short week was a trip to Arrowhead Stadium, and despite the defence putting in an incredible performance, the offence went hiding and the Broncos’ streak against the Chiefs fell to 16 straight losses

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Despite the two losses being disappointing from an offensive standpoint the defence threw up positive signs and, finally, the two sides of the ball came together to generate the Broncos’ first home win of the year against a lacklustre Green Bay Packers outfit. 

The win against the Packers still felt like a consolation victory for the rest of the season, however, and the Broncos welcomed the Chiefs in week eight, with all the expectation being, another blowout to the rampant Cheifs. 

The reality for Broncos Country was so much sweeter than anyone could imagine, they blew the Super Bowl champions away and romped to a comprehensive 24-9 demolition of their AFC West rivals. 

Heading into the bye week the fanbase and media reaction to the Broncos changed completely and there was a breath of optimism that swept its way back into Denver.

Resurgent out of the bye 

Now sitting at 3-5 coming out of their midseason bye the Broncos have a clear road and clear goal ahead of them for the next nine weeks. 

It’s not going to be easy and there are plenty of challenging games ahead, none more so than this Monday at Buffalo.

With back-to-back primetime games, the Broncos could move back to .500 and with full momentum on their side against some more favourable opponents. The trade deadline has been and gone so every franchise knows “who they are” and the Broncos are a team on the incline. 

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After Buffalo, Payton’s team will welcome the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, before welcoming the Cleveland Browns and then making a trip to the Houston Texans. 

In an ideal world, four wins from four would be tremendous in that stretch, but even three from four getting victories over AFC playoff rivals the Browns as well as beating the Texans and the Vikings could see the Broncos at 6-6 going into five interesting games at the end of the year. 

Finishing strong

The final five games of the season throw up plenty of narratives no matter where the Broncos stand out of their four key games coming off the bye week. 

Firstly, a trip to Los Angeles to face their AFC West rivals, the Chargers, in a game that could have big playoff implications. Both teams could feasibly be heading into that game 6-6, both gunning for the seventh seed in the AFC. 

Next up is a difficult trip to one of the NFC’s best teams, the Detroit Lions who have only lost two games this season and beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead on the opening night. 

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Week 16, could potentially be a game with draft position implications if the Broncos can’t find any wins in the second half of the season. The New England Patriots will come to Mile High in what was once a fierce AFC Championship battle. The Patriots are in full rebuild mode and currently sit at 2-7, a record that could be even worse when this one rolls around. 

The penultimate week of the season is a rematch of week 14 with the reverse of the Chargers matchup this time in Denver. If the Broncos have any record in the region of 8-7 or better then Mile High could be bouncing for this one with giant playoff implications.

Games against the Raiders will bookend the Broncos’ season and the Broncos will have to go to Sin City to close out their year, they could finish their season with a flourish both making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 as well as snapping their losing streak against the Raiders as well. 

Record prediction 

With all of this being said, I may have foreseen a miraculous turnaround that sees the Broncos win eight or nine of their last nine games to finish the year 12-5 or 11-6. In reality, that seems unlikely and the best possible record I could see this Broncos team getting is 10-7, but my prediction would be either 8-9 or 9-8. 

Week 10 Preview

The Bills have been shaky this season and look far from the clinical and convincing outfit that they have been in recent years. 

Their offence has been struggling despite Josh Allen’s MVP level of play, the defence has been star players, Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano go onto Injury Reserve and there are holes in that team that this Broncos group can take advantage of.

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The Bills have the third-ranked total offence in the league in the first nine weeks of the season despite being 5-4. They’ve scored the third most passing TDs in the league this season (two more than the Broncos) and they rank seventh for rushing TDs. 

They haven’t looked convincing since their week four victory over the Miami Dolphins and their recent form has been inconsistent. 

However, with a talented quarterback and talent around him, the Bills are always a threat, especially at home.

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ massive streak-snapping win against the Chiefs and the trade deadline

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The Broncos might end the season 3-13, but even if that possibility becomes a reality, Sean Payton has laid a foundation for any future Broncos team to build on, he beat the Chiefs. 

So let’s get into my takeaways from this huge win against Kansas City, and look beyond the bye week for what this win might mean for the last nine weeks of the season.

16 game losing streak snapped

This wasn’t just any Chiefs team, this was an unstoppable force against the AFC West, and specifically the AFC West on the road. 

Before Sunday, the Chiefs had won 16-straight against the Broncos dating back to 2015, 13-straight against the AFC West and 6-straight this season. 

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Mahomes, on his own, had 29 straight games with a passing touchdown, 16 straight road wins against the AFC West and 12 straight wins against the Broncos. 

All of those streaks are finished and although the teams have still endured differing seasons up to this point the magnitude of this win cannot be understated for the Broncos moving forward. 

Defence came up huge

Focusing on the game specifically, the defence played their best game of the season on Sunday, recording four takeaways and not allowing a single touchdown. 

In my takeaways from the week six loss, two weeks ago, I highlighted the importance of only restricting this offence to one touchdown on the night. 

Fast forward two weeks, I couldn’t have ever envisioned holding this team to no touchdowns, single-digit points and a second-half shutout. 

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This wasn’t just a win, this was a convincing, brutal, mauling and the defence led the way in how they played. 

Nik Bonitto, Jonathan Cooper, Zach Allen and Baron Browning were huge on the front seven which has been rightfully criticised this year. 

The secondary has been reworked since the 70-point game in Miami and on Sunday they made some major plays even in Kareem Jackson’s absence

To go from allowing 70 points in a game to holding a top-five offence in the league to only nine points and no touchdowns deserves endless plaudits and Vance Joseph has to be given his flowers.

Culture and system finally sinking in

Sean Payton’s arrival at the Broncos signalled a change of culture was coming at Mile High. 

For too long since Gary Kubiak’s departure, the Broncos have lacked a culture and Payton finally looks like he’s starting to deliver one. 

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It also appears that the systematic changes which came with such a widespread change in the coaching staff this offseason are finally clicking with the players. 

Both offensively and defensively they look better at executing plays and more efficient with time calling, penalties are also down considerably.

Perhaps trusting the process will pay off in the medium to long term, who’d have thought?

Not sellers at the deadline

A huge talking point in the last few weeks leading up to yesterday’s trade deadline was whether the Broncos were going to be having a fire sale or not. 

The deadline has passed and no Broncos were moved so I guess we know the answer. 

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It’s refreshing to see the Broncos stick at the deadline and not move any pieces, which they have done in recent years most notably with Bradley Chubb last year and Von Miller the season before.

With a culture building and a 3-2 record in their last five games, heading into a bye week, with winnable games down the stretch it feels sensible to keep this group and hope to lay the foundations of something heading into 2024.

Offence still inconsistent

Putting up 24 points against the Chiefs’ defence is no mean feat and this defence hadn’t given up more than 21 points in a game so far this season. 

Kudos to the offence for that and Russell Wilson looked good on a lot of drives on Sunday, however, inconsistencies are still rife in this offence. 

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This game could (and should) have been put away much more convincingly than just a 24-9 margin. 

In certain spots, Wilson held onto the ball for too long and took a crucial sack because of it resulting in losing valuable yardage. 

Of course, there is an argument to be had that it was more so the Chiefs’ defence being good than the Broncos’ offence being poor, in games against lesser defences this season we have also seen similar issues arise. 

Run game was immense

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On a final positive note on the offence, they were tremendous on Sunday in the run game. 

Javonte Williams scored his first touchdown of the year and totalled 98 yards in the game. 

If the Broncos can build a consistent run game that they can lean on it will be a massive pillar for this offence to possess. 

Look ahead at the bye-week

Usually, in this spot we’d discuss the upcoming opponents, however, the Broncos have the virtue of now being on their bye in week nine. 

The bye has come at a good time after the trade deadline to settle everyone into the system heading into the final nine weeks of the season. 

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Payton can continue to build his culture and everyone on the roster knows for certain they will be a Bronco for at least the next nine weeks of their careers. 

It may slightly stunt the momentum they’ve picked up from the two wins in previous weeks but on the contrary, they can consolidate the positives from those games and pay more attention to the flaws in their performances in recent weeks. 

Not to mention they don’t play until Monday Night Football in week 10 giving them even more time to prepare for going into Buffalo to face Josh Allen and the Bills in two weeks.

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PICK SIX – Week 8

With no teams on a bye, Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season was jam-packed with talking points. Alas, one half of our regular team, Shaun Blundell, was unavailable for selection this week, leaving Sean Tyler to pick six of them to discuss in more detail. He remembered to change the clocks and didn’t miss a thing so read on for tales of a shock loss for the Chiefs, a tsunami of QB injuries, a terrible New York ‘derby’ and a monster debut for Will Levis.  

New York, New York, so bad they named it twice  

The co-tenants of New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the Jets and Giants, met in a key battle for a much-needed win and local bragging rights. Although the Jets eventually prevailed, winning a 13-10 OT game in steady rain, I don’t think either team has much to brag about.  

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. For the now 2-6 Giants, Saquon Barkley did at least look like he was trying, with a career-high 36 carries for 134 yards. On the other side of the ball, the defense was outstanding for 59-and-a-half minutes. Kayvon Thibodeaux in particular was a game-wrecker, with three sacks, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. As for the eventually victorious Jets, Breece Hall had a nice 50-yard TD reception. Other than that, nope. I got nuthin’.

None of us wanted more than 60 minutes of this Mess-at-MetLife but still, we had to endure endless errors, sloppy play and poor coaching decisions. Where do I start? The fact that these two teams combined for more punts (24) than points (23) tells you everything you need to know. The only reason this can’t be classed as a dumpster fire is because it was raining too heavily.

With Daniel Jones already out for Big Blue, his deputy Tyrod Taylor sustained a rib injury during a sack midway through the second quarter. Taylor went 4 of 7 for 8 yards before undrafted practice squad rookie Tommy DeVito entered the fray. They clearly didn’t trust him to throw the ball as the Giants ran the ball on 33 of their 34 second-half plays, which included a rushing TD by DeVito himself. They ended the game with a historically bad -9 net passing yards, punted 13 times and converted just two of 19 third downs.

Nonetheless, their opponents were no better and after trading eight consecutive punts, the Giants looked to be snoozing their way to victory. Thibodeaux’s final takedown of Zach Wilson, which gave his team the ball at the Jets’ 26-yard line with 1:26 to play and a 10-7 lead, all but iced the game. But after three Barkley runs for a total of nine yards, Brian Daboll opted to send out kicker Graham Gano on the ensuing 4th-and-1. In missing for the second time during the game, he left the door to a unlikely Jets victory slightly ajar. They pushed it and stepped through.

With 24 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Zach Wilson connected with Garrett Wilson and Allen Lazard on consecutive 29-yard passes before rushing to spike the ball with just one second on the clock. Greg Zuerlein’s 35-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. Without a trusted QB, the fast-unravelling Giants inevitably went three-and-out and after the Jets reached midfield on their first possession in OT, a 30-yard defensive pass interference penalty by Adoree’ Jackson moved them into the red zone. Once again, Zuerlein split the uprights to give the 4-3 Jets a third consecutive win they barely deserved. [ST]

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Broncos buck the trend

Just two weeks ago, I wrote about Kansas City beating Denver 19-8, about how well Travis Kelce played and about how they’d won 16 in a row against their AFC West rivals, despite not firing on all cylinders. Well, a fortnight on, the Broncos turned the tables on their divisional foes in the reverse fixture, winning 24-9 and beating Patrick Mahomes for the first time.

Ranked 31st in points allowed and dead last in yards allowed, Vance Joseph’s Denver D unexpectedly kept Mahomes, Kelce and company out of the end zone, holding them to just three field goals. Mahomes, who began the day on the injury report with a dose of the flu, must have been under the weather. He had no touchdowns, three turnovers – two pretty poor INTs and a fumble – and got sacked three times. Kelce led the Chiefs with just 58 receiving yards, not just on Sunday but weirdly the last time they lost to Denver (way back in Week 2, 2015). Also noteworthy is that he’s averaging 46.5 yards when Taylor Swift isn’t in attendance, like this week, and 108 when she is. Go figure.

But it wasn’t just Mahomes and Kelce who looked off-colour. Marquez Valdes-Scantling gave away a fumble, Skyy Moore dropped a crucial TD pass and Mecole Hardman muffed a punt on his own 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, which inevitably led to the Broncos’ third and decisive TD.

The Broncos defense definitely won the day but the offense ate the clock up and did just about enough, despite the KC pass rush sacking Russell Wilson six times. Running the ball 40 times allowed Dange’Russ to be effective in the passing game when called on. He may have only thrown 12 of 19 for a measly 114 yards but he still managed to find Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton for touchdowns with a quarter of his completions. And unlike his counterpart, there were no picks to blot his copybook.

Albeit sitting at 3-5, the Broncos now enter their bye week with back-to-back wins, giving them at least some hope for the rest of the campaign, especially with the Raiders and Chargers also stuck on three wins. As for the Chiefs, they travel to Germany to face the Dolphins (also 6-2) in a battle of the top two AFC seeds. To get something from that game in Frankfurt, they’ll need a healthy Mahomes… and maybe a plane ticket for Ms. Swift. [ST]

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Once you strop, you just can’t stop

I’ve always told my kids that tantrums don’t get you what you want and to a large degree, that holds true. But there are exceptions, like when the Eagles’ star wideout AJ Brown threw his toys out of the pram in Week 2, complaining that he wasn’t getting enough of the ball. Well, since his well-documented sideline hissy-fit, he has been unstoppable. Brown now has produced six consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards, which breaks the league record previously held by the great Calvin Johnson.

Week after week, he makes highlight-reel-worthy catches, trucks defenders and finds pay dirt, and this week was no exception. He racked up 130 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions in Philadelphia’s 38-31 win over the Washington Commanders as he helped his QB Jalen Hurts to 319 passing yards and four TDs. It also doesn’t hurt that he now has another big-bodied receiver, Julio Jones, alongside him to draw some of the attention away.

Brown has amassed 60 catches for 939 yards and five TDs for the now 7-1 Eagles, although he still trails Miami’s Tyreek Hill in all categories so far (61 catches, 1,014 yards and 8 TDs). But with nine regular season games left, these two are surely in the race for Offensive Player of the Year honours – and who knows, maybe even MVP if their trajectories continue to soar.

Looking back to draft weekend 2022, GM Howie Roseman might also be worthy of the trade of the year award, if there were such a thing, for dealing the 18th and 101st picks to Tennessee for the 24-year-old receiver. [ST]

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Bengals begin to bite back

After a 0-2 start, Bengals fans hoped they’d turn a corner once the statuesque Joe Burrow healed up, just like last year (appendectomy). And in facing the 49ers in Santa Clara this weekend, they also hoped for a trajectory-setting win coming off their bye, just like last year (a 37-30 victory over the Steelers). Well, it appears that 2023 is the new 2022 and their wishes have come true. Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback seems mobile again and they registered their fourth win in five to go 4-3. The 31-17 result leaves the Niners nursing their first home loss in 12 games and QB Brock Purdy contemplating his first-ever home defeat, despite a career-high 365 passing yards.

Make no mistake: even as four-point underdogs, Cincy’s two-score victory wasn’t perfect. For the Niners, CMC posted 118 total yards and two touchdowns, equalling the NFL record of 17 consecutive games with a TD. George Kittle threatened to make it a George Kittle game (149 receiving yards from nine catches were both season highs) and even Brandon Aiyuk’s five catches went for 109 yards. Burrow was also sacked three times. But with their bend-but-don’t-break approach, they conceded yards but not points. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt handed Purdy his second consecutive multi-interception game and despite sustaining an ankle injury, Trey Hendrickson soldiered on to claim another sack, taking his season’s tally to eight. 

That was enough to let a rejuvenated Cincinnati offense do its thing at long last. Ja’Marr Chase (100 receiving yards, 1 TD) was impressive once again, Tee Higgins was more involved after a recent rib injury and Joe Mixon (110 scrimmage yards, 1 TD) had his best game of the season. But the Bengals’ fortunes live and die by their franchise quarterback. While nursing a dodgy calf, Burrow was undoubtedly poor. As he healed, he improved and after a week’s rest, he’s seemingly back to his best, carving up the Niners like a pumpkin. His 283 passing yards, three passing TDs and no INTs included a series of 19 straight completions and his 87% completion rate (28 of 32) is the highest recorded against the 49ers in their entire history. The aerial onslaught was complemented by 43 on the ground through quarterback draws, sneaks and off-script scrambles, the likes of which we haven’t seen this year due to his injury, as well as the greatest escapolgy act we’ve seen so far this season.

Looking ahead, San Francisco take a much-needed week off, which should help them reset after three straight losses and get the likes of Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams back on the field. Meanwhile, the Bengals push on to a Sunday Night showdown with the Bills. Much has been made of Cincy’s tough schedule from here on in but if Joe Burrow is as dialled in as he was this week, it’s gonna be one hell of a game.  [ST]

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Will Levis be the answer?

From Levi’s Stadium to Will Levis…

“Not a bad debut,” said master of understatement Mike Vrabel. “He was ballin’, playing out of his mind,” stated Derrick Henry. As for Levis himself, he said “I dreamed of this moment as a kid and to get a win is incredible.”

In place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, the Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback put on an absolute show in a 28-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In his first career start, Levis completed 19 of 29 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns (one in each quarter of the game) and no picks. In so doing, he joins Marcus Mariota and Fran Tarkenton as the only players in NFL history with four-plus touchdown passes in their NFL debut.

Resplendent in a light blue throwback Oilers uniform, Levis turned back the clock to before the franchise moved east, when the great Warren Moon orchestrated Houston’s offense. Suiting Tim Kelly’s vertical offense perfectly, Levis showed off his cannon of an arm, hitting three TDs of 30-plus yards – the most ever in an NFL debut. All three are now among the 10 longest touchdowns by air distance this season, per Next Gen Stats. It’s also noteworthy that the 6’4” QB was only sacked twice. He can obviously move in the pocket, unlike Tannehill and the other backup, Malik Willis, who seems to have slipped down the pecking order.

It’s a short week for the Titans, who next play on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The Steelers defense will be more of a challenge than the Falcons were but even a half-decent showing could see the rookie keep the job. His inconsistencies at Kentucky divided opinion when coming out of college but the second-round draft pick has already thrown twice as many TD passes this season than Tannehill (just two in six games). It’s therefore no surprise that Coach Vrabel has already indicated that he will re-evaluate the role once the veteran QB is fully healthy. The clock on Tannehill’s time in Tennessee is ticking louder than ever. [ST]

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Quarterback carnage

Blood. Bandages. Broken body parts. No, I’m not talking about a Halloween fancy dress party, I’m summarising the state of starting quarterbacks after a particularly destructive Week 8 slate.

Arguably the highest profile and most damaging of the injuries on Sunday was the season-ending Achilles tear sustained by Vikings QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. Now enamoured to many of us through the Quarterback series on Netflix, Cousins had completed 23 passes for 274 yards and two TDs when he went down, leaving rookie Jaren Hall to see the Vikes over the line with three completions for 23 yards in his NFL debut. Despite the 24-10 win, With Cousins’ time in Minnesota probably up now, the team now faces the long-term trilemma of letting Hall continue under center, hoping veteran Nick Mullens can return from a back injury or going shopping before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston, anyone?

The New York Giants are also down to the bare bones in the QB room. With Daniel Jones still out with a neck injury, Big Blue have been relying on Tyrod Taylor of late but he got knocked out of Sunday’s game with the Jets with a rib injury that needed hospital attention. Once again, an untested rookie, Tommy DeVito, was called into action. Alas, he completed just two passes for -1 yard and Gang Green stole an OT 13-10 victory, as detailed earlier. The Steelers’ Kenny Pickett (10 completions for 73 yards) also sustained a rib injury in the second quarter of their game against Jacksonville. Coming shortly after a hamstring injury to Minkah Fitzpatrick, it left too much for Mitch Trubisky to compensate for. The stand-in QB mustered 15 passes for 138 yards and a TD, but he also gave away two INTs in a 20-10 loss.

And there’s more. Rams QB Matthew Stafford injured the thumb on his throwing hand twice in their 43-20 loss to Dallas, first during a Micah Parsons sack and then when he hit it against an opponent’s helmet during a two-point attempt shortly after halftime. Brett Rypien (5 of 10 for 42 yards) deputised from then on but it was never going to be.

The Atlanta Falcons also played half a game with stand-in Taylor Heinicke after Desmond Ridder was evaluated for concussion (but cleared to return) in their 28-23 defeat to the Titans. Ridder led his team to just three points, lost a league-leading 12th fumble of the season, took five sacks and threw for just 71 yards before his departure. HC Arthur Smith later confirmed that Ridder’s removal wasn’t performance-based but his choice of starter going forward might well be, given that the team mustered 20 points with Ridder’s deputy. [ST]

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ victory over the Green Bay Packers

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The Denver Broncos are in the win column once again ladies and gentlemen! 

This season has been full of narrow losses and teething problems, although it might be short-lived, having another win under the belt is a refreshing feeling for those who align themselves with the Broncos. 

Here are my takeaways from the Broncos’ second win of the year. 

Run game finding its groove

The Packers’ run defence isn’t the best by any stretch of the imagination but the Broncos ran the ball well throughout the game. 

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The running backs were consistently churning yards on first and second down, setting the passing offence up with manageable third down yardage which is what we expected this Sean Payton offence would look like. 

The Broncos ran the ball 25 times in the game for 145 yards, and the Packers just couldn’t stop Javonte Willams or Samaje Perine in the running or passing game.

Defensive consistency

The defence has finally looked to have regained some of their form from last season stringing together three good games. 

They’re still a long way off their stellar performances from a year ago under Ejiro Evero but they’re showcasing the ability that everyone knew they had. 

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There’s an argument to be made that the Broncos’ defence was unfortunate to give up the two touchdowns that they did. 

Romeo Doubs’ touchdown should have been awarded as an interception to Patrick Surtain II according to CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore and Jayden Reed was in the right place at the right time to catch a dropped ball in the endzone by Doubs to make it 17-16 late on.

The pass rush struggled and there is still a concern that the front seven lacks dynamism and depth but P.J. Locke stepped up when it mattered and grabbed the game-sealing interception late in the day getting Denver in the win column.

Offence moved the ball well

Akin to the first takeaway, the offence looked promising moving the ball through all four quarters. 

Russell Wilson looked good moving the ball through the air and as mentioned prior the running attack consistently gained yards on the ground. 

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Wilson could have had two touchdowns in the game but one was chalked off early in the game due to a penalty.

It is concerning that the offence can’t convert their drives into touchdowns and often in the red zone there is a tendency to go ‘three-and-out’. 

Despite having a redzone percentage around the league average, the Broncos have only scored 14 touchdowns off of their 70 drives this season. 

Second half offence is still shaky

The offence in the second half has been extremely poor so far this season, failing to score in the third quarter of four out of seven games so far this season. 

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Outside of their scripted drives, the offence often fails to find fluidity, especially in the second half. 

This week that issue was mitigated and the Broncos looked to move the ball well throughout the game, despite some shaky play in the second half and it is a concerning trend for the season.

Week eight preview 

Coming off a positive performance and a needed win, the Broncos face arguably the toughest test in the league when they welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Mile High next Sunday. 

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Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be looking to extend their dominant run over the Broncos, their win streak currently sits at 16 wins and they will be hoping to make it 17 on Sunday. 

The Broncos are out of playoff contention and will just be playing for pride in the final ten weeks of the season and many will be playing to try and earn roster spots for their next teams beyond the Broncos. 

One way for Payton to repair some of the damage his short tenure has done among Broncos country is snapping the streak and stopping the red-hot Chiefs from running away from the rest of the AFC once again.

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PICK SIX – Week 7

Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season didn’t disappoint when it came to talking points. So much so that our regular scribes, Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler, were hard pressed to pick just six of them to unpack. But after some deliberation and cogitation, they settled on this little lot for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

National Tight Ends Day

There are many awareness-raising and promotional days in the calendar and some are odder than others: National Talk Like a Pirate Day. National Men Make Dinner Day. Kiss A Ginger Day. National Cheese Toastie Day. And of course, National Tight Ends Day.

Yes, the fourth Sunday in October has been designated National Tight Ends Day by the NFL since 2o19, when a mic’d-up George Kittle joked that TEs should have their own holiday. This year, Kittle made a music video – featuring some Niners’ teammates, cameos from various TEs around the league and some historic footage of former greats – to celebrate the importance of the position.

So it was almost written in the stars that tight ends were going to play a big role in Week 7. Inevitably, the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce led the league in receiving (12 catches for 179 yards and a TD), as he and Patrick Mahomes celebrated their 50th scoring connection. And with his fifth game of 150-plus yards, Mr Taylor Swift is now only one behind the all-time leader, Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.

Not to be outdone, a tight end also led the league in receiving touchdowns. A drumroll for the Ravens’ Mark Andrews, please. Baltimore (more about them shortly, Ravens fans) destroyed the previously 5-1 Detroit Lions 38-6, thanks to an MVP-level performance from Lamar Jackson and a solid outing from Andrews. No.89 corralled four targets for 63 yards but two of them went for TDs: an 11-yarder and an 8-yarder either side of halftime.

We can’t move on without acknowledging that funny little dance that Mike Gesicki does when he scores. The Patriots tight end was entitled to his celebratory not-quite-a-griddy as he snagged the game-winning score against the Bills with just 12 seconds left on the clock – a tight end to a game if ever there was one (other dad jokes are available). The catch at the back of the end zone secured an unexpected 29-25 victory against their divisional rivals and keeps the AFC cauldron bubbling away nicely. [ST]

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Signs of life at Mile High?

It was only four short weeks ago that the Denver Broncos were on the wrong end of a 70-point drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Fast forward a month and back-to-back decent defensive displays have allowed some small chunks of positivity to be found in the floundering franchise. After completing a 19-17 victory over the Packers, they have now kept their opponent under 20 points in consecutive games. Yes, Green Bay have their own issues but the other opponent in this mini revival was the Kansas City Chiefs.

Let’s not get carried away here though. Yes, the defense has improved but it is still not playing anywhere near Broncos units of years gone by. Too many penalties, not enough men on the field at times, missed tackles… you get the drill. Kareem Jackson was ejected for the second time this campaign after a vicious hit early in the fourth quarter. For those keeping score, he has already had four unnecessary roughness penalties with fines now close to $100,000. It’s hard to imagine that a suspension is not going to be forthcoming. It is systematic of the lack of discipline in the side.

Editor’s note: Jackson has indeed been suspended for four games for his consistent infringements of the unnecessary roughness rules.

Where the defense may offer some signs of life, the offense is really struggling badly. Russell Wilson was improved from last Thursday’s horror show, he couldn’t be much worse. However, it was another game with under 200 yards passing and only two receivers, Cortland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, registered catches. There is a lack of commitment to the running game, even though individually Javonte Williams is running pretty well. A reverse play that netted the only stat of the day for rookie Marvin Mims Jr. went for minus 11 yards.

Sean Payton was brought in to turn around the franchise and “save” the Russell Wilson trade. As we approach the halfway point of the year, it’s fair to question if it’s a forlorn hope. [SB]

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Many of our favourite players make the highlight reel catches and the spectacular touchdowns. After all, that’s the aim of the game. But I do love a last-gasp defensive play that somehow prevents an all-but-guaranteed score. As they say, the guys on the other side of the ball get paid too and this weekend, two of them definitely earned their corn. As it was, neither play affected the final result but that shouldn’t take anything away from their efforts.

The first one was in the Falcons game in Tampa Bay. With six minutes left and the score nicely poised at 13-10, Atlanta had the ball at the Buccaneers’ 12-yard line on a 1st-and-goal. After a faked handoff, QB Desmond Ridder went left and took a direct line to the pylon, looking to run in his second score of the day. Holding the ball in his right hand, he was almost level with the line when Antoine Winfield Jr. swooped in from behind and punched the ball down, out of Ridder’s hands. The Atlanta players still celebrated, as the initial ruling on the field was that their guy had crossed the plane before losing the ball, but on review, that decision was overturned. In the end, the Falcons held on to win 16-13 but that amazing play from Winfield nearly cost them.

The other piece of phenomenal defending came in the Browns’ 39-38 win over the Colts in Indianapolis. In a thoroughly entertaining end-to-end game, every drive seemed to matter. With half a minute remaining, it looked like Cleveland – trailing 38-33 at the time – had got a vital go-ahead TD on a 1st-and-goal. PJ Walker, deputising for an injured Deshaun Watson, dinked an absolute dime to David Njoku, as he made his way to the front-left corner of the end zone. The 6’4” tight end jumped up, arms aloft, and literally had the ball between his hands when his blue-clad shadow, Rodney Thomas, reached in between his mitts and somehow knocked the ball away. Alas for Indy, Kareem Hunt managed to run in the crucial game-winner 15 seconds later but it was a hell of a play by Thomas nonetheless. [ST]

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Ravens offense joins the party

The Baltimore Ravens have been a tricky team to get a read on. A very good defense, certainly. The offense? Despite a 4-2 record heading into Sunday, it hadn’t been much to write home about. Then Sunday happened.

The Detroit Lions, full of praise and expectation after their own start to the campaign, were put to the sword by a first half offensive masterclass by the Ravens. They took their opening four drives for touchdowns as they opened up a 28-point cushion by the interval. Lamar Jackson rushed for one, threw for two more and Gus “The Bus” Edwards also crossed over. A four-play, 94-yard drive to open up the second half (after turning the Lions over on downs) was the final nail in an already pretty tightly sealed coffin.

The red zone, which had proved problematic recently for Baltimore, was also a big success this weekend. Those opening four touchdown drives all ended through a trip into the red zone. They would end the day with a five out of six touchdown conversion rate against such trips by the end of the day. The reliable Justin Tucker kicked a field goal on the other occasion. 

It was Jackson’s best performance of the season by some distance. He was decisive with his legs and more than efficient with his arm. His 357 passing yards were his most since way back in October of 2021. He has seemingly found himself a new favourite target alongside Mark Andrews in rookie Zay Flowers. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman also getting back up to full fitness, it suddenly seems as though Baltimore has a slew of options with which to attack teams with. 

On their day, the Ravens are a match for anyone and must surely be considered in the Super Bowl conversation if the offensive output stays at this level. [SB]

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Maher culpa

Though it pains me to admit it (as a Bengals fan), there were plenty of positives on show as Pittsburgh travelled west and beat the LA Rams on their own patch. We should’ve seen it coming, as HC Mike Tomlin rarely loses when he’s given a bye week to prepare for his next opponents.

The highlights include an impressive return from IR for wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who gave his sleep-walking teammates – they’d only scored three points in the first half – a much-needed jolt with five catches for 79 yards. Kenny Pickett and George Pickens (107 receiving yards) seemed to click and Najee Harris caught the eye with some nifty hurdling down the sideline. On the other side of the ball, an interception from TJ Watt saw him become only the second player since 1982 with 70-plus sacks and seven-plus interceptions in their first seven seasons.

The Rams weren’t without notable moments of their own, not least a 154-yard performance from Puka Nacua, the backfield committee of Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson gaining 127 yards between them and two sacks by Michael Hoecht. But on a night when Cooper Kupp was restricted to just two catches for a paltry 29 yards, they needed to lean on kicker Brett Maher. 

Alas, Maher – who signed just before the season started – got a case of the yips, much like he did last postseason for the Cowboys when he couldn’t kick an extra point for love nor money (he missed four of five in the Wild Card game against the Bucs). The wheels seem to come off again on Sunday, despite playing in the controlled conditions of SoFi Stadium. He doinked a 53-yard FG attempt off the left upright, missed a PAT and then missed another field goal, veering left again from 51. Maher did make a 41-yard kick but you don’t need to be a mathematics professor to calculate the importance of those seven missed points in a game that ended 24-17.

The failed extra point was his first such miss of the season but he’s now missed six of his 23 FG attempts. Sunday was his third game this season with multiple misses, leaving him ranked 29th out of 33 kickers. No wonder HC Sean McVay said “We’ll look at it and we’ll see, but he’s got to be better.” Maher himself coughed up a bit of post-match mea culpa, saying: “I’m just a little disappointed for the team. I feel like I could have made a very positive impact on that game and didn’t do my part today.” [ST]

Editor’s note: Maher was released by Rams HC Sean McVay on Tuesday. With no other kicker on the roster, the search for a replacement begins.

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Al Michaels, it’s time to go

I appreciate commentary is a matter of personal choice and opinion. For me, hearing the likes of Kevin Harlan on the play-by-play or the analysis of a recent player such as Greg Olsen doing the colour commentary job improves my enjoyment of the game. Put simply, a commentator should enhance your experience and not ruin it. You only have to look at the reported $165 million that ESPN paid out to bring Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to Monday Night Football for the broadcasters understanding of this too. Which leads me to Al Michaels.

It must have been quite the coup for Amazon when they were announced as the exclusive broadcaster for Thursday Night Football. Michaels had been the voice of Sunday Night Football for many years and, as such, had built himself a reputation for being the man for the big occasion. There have been signs of decline in his output over the past 18 months with the lack of enthusiasm in his voice being the real noticeable difference. Thursday Night saw a new low point.

With the Jaguars and Saints tied at 24 points each and time winding down, Michaels completely botched what turned out to be the game-winning play. Trevor Lawrence dropped back and found Christian Kirk, who ran an excellent whip route against Tyrann Mathieu. Kirk managed to sprint past and in-between multiple Saints defenders on his way to a 44-yard touchdown reception. 

“Christian Kirk, inside the 20, and he goes… and Christian Kirk takes the ball all the way… to about the 1-yard line,” the 78-year-old said while pausing during the play. Then, while Kirk celebrated the touchdown with his teammates, Michaels said: “They’re gonna spot it as [Kirk] thinks he scored the touchdown… And they’re gonna call it a touchdown now.”

He was nowhere near the sideline so I have no idea what Michaels was watching. In terms of enthusiasm, you would be forgiven for thinking Michaels was commentating on a chess game as opposed to an NFL contest. It’s no doubt hard to walk away from something that you love but I’m sorry Al, it’s time to go. [SB]

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ Week Six loss at the Chiefs on TNF

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The Broncos haven’t been gifted many primetime windows in the last eight seasons, and the way the Broncos have played in those eight years, can you blame the schedule makers for giving the primetime windows to other franchises? 

It was more of the same on Thursday night primetime this week as the Broncos extended their winless run against the Kansas City Chiefs to 16 games, and counting, whilst also, slipping to 1-5 on the year and well and truly putting to bed any lingering hopes of a playoff berth for Sean Payton in his first year in Denver. 

Over the first four weeks, there was a strong argument to be made that the Broncos could (and probably should) have been 4-1 over the opening quarter of the season. Losing in two one-score games at home in the opening two weeks and only losing by multiple scores last week against the Jets due to a turnover that became a score late in the game.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about this week’s loss in Arrowhead, so without further ado, here are my takeaways from the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs. 

Rushing offence 

Starting with the positives, the run game started the game well, Javonte Williams had a couple of bruising runs in the opening quarter which looked more like the Williams we’re used to seeing in Broncos Country. 

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The Broncos ran for 115 yards on the night and it was clear that Payton wanted to control the time of possession early in the game and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. 

It seems Payton has been managing the snaps of Williams in the opening six weeks of the year, which is sensible considering the injury he had and the way he plays, one does have to wonder how long Payton can keep limiting the snaps of one of the Broncos’ only playmakers on offence though.

Defence looked good 

The defence held its own for the second week running and held this explosive offence to only one touchdown in the game which is incredible to say, especially when they’ve had 70 points scored against them in one game on the road already this year. 

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For the opening four weeks, the conversations in Broncos country have revolved around the offence keeping up their level of play and the defence giving them a chance to win games by holding opponents to a somewhat modest total of points. 

In the subsequent two weeks, the conversation has flipped and now Broncos fans are looking for the offence to be competent at the very least and asking the defence to retain their level of performance.

Offence falters again 

Speaking of the offence, for the second week in a row they’ve failed to show up in games that have well and truly been there for the taking. 

Last week Russell Wilson had the ball in his hands with the chance to lead the offence down the field and take the lead late in the game, instead, Wilson fumbled the ball and the Jets ran it in to win the game. 

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This week the Broncos weren’t even close to the Chiefs despite them only reaching the endzone once. 

They couldn’t move the ball and the wide receivers couldn’t get open at all for Wilson to find them and get the offence moving down the field. 

One of the only bright spots in the Broncos pass game this year, Marvin Mims Jr., wasn’t even on the field after his error against the Jets last Sunday appears to have rubbed Payton up the wrong way. 

Without Mims, the offence has no vertical explosiveness, and for a receiver room that is supposedly all on the trade block, they’ve done nothing but harm their trade stock in the last two weeks.

Roster moves are pending

As mentioned previously, it isn’t just the receivers who are up for sale, according to several reports, the entire roster besides superstar Patrick Surtain II is on the trade block for the Broncos. 

Whether Payton wants to blow things up quite to that extent or not is up for discussion and it doesn’t seem like the fire sale will be quite that wholesale. 

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Nonetheless, besides a handful of promising young pieces on either side of the ball and a couple of highly paid new free-agent acquisitions it feels like the large majority of this roster would be eligible for trade if general manager George Paton picked up any calls in the coming weeks. 

Some of the more highly spoken about players in trade rumours have been: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, amongst others. 

Most believe those are the four players that would garner any relevant haul for Paton and as a result, they are the ones most likely to be traded, especially as the Broncos are desperate for picks as they attempt to rebuild their roster.

Week seven preview 

Looking ahead to next Sunday, the Broncos turn their attention to their game against the Green Bay Packers who are coming off of a bye in week six. 

The Packers have had a mixed season with highs and lows before heading into an early-season bye. No one has encapsulated that more perhaps, than quarterback Jordan Love who took the reigns from Aaron Rodgers in the offseason. 

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Love’s play has been inconsistent and injuries on offence have led to some subpar play from the Packers which might bouy this resurgent Broncos defence across the last two weeks. 

The defence is stacked with talent but play-caller, Joe Barry, is public enemy number one amongst cheeseheads and his play-calling has resulted in numerous losses already this season in games the Packers should have been winning. 

Fortunately for the Broncos, they have had an extended week to prepare for this game and come back refreshed and, hopefully, rejuvenated ahead of Sunday.

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They desperately need a win this week at home, before they lock horns once again with the Chiefs again in week eight, and then go on their bye in week nine. 

If the Broncos don’t win on Sunday they could realistically be 1-7 coming off their bye with a brutal stretch to end the season later in the year, including road trips to Buffalo, Detroit and the Chargers as well as a home game against the Browns.

It’s not a must-win game for any playoff implications but it’s certainly a must-win game if Payton and Wilson want any credibility coming out of this disastrous start to their campaign in Denver.

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PICK SIX – Week 6

Wow, we’re a third of the way through the regular season already. Doesn’t time fly when Travis Kelce is impressing Taylor Swift, the Browns are beating the Niners and Cooper Kupp is doing Cooper Kupp things again? Anyway, here are the thoughts of Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler on these and some other talking points from the Week 6 slate.

Sweet 16 for Kelce and co.

A day after the premiere of her new concert movie, pop diva Taylor Swift returned to the corporate boxes at Arrowhead Stadium – resplendent in a Red Chiefs jacket – to watch her beau, tight end Travis Kelce, star in a 19-8 win over the Broncos. This was KC’s 16th successive victory against their AFC West rivals. The Last Time Denver won, in 2015, Peyton Manning led them to the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes only threw one touchdown pass and also had an ugly red-zone INT, his fifth turnover of the season. Isiah Pacheco was a solid threat (62 rushing, 36 receiving), rookie Rashee Rice snagged four for 72 and Kadarius Toney reeled in the Chiefs’ only TD. Harrison Butker also took some of the limelight, hitting four FGs including a 60-yarder.

But once again, it was very much the Travis Kelce show. His bad ankle was heavily strapped but he was able to Shake It Off, hauling in all nine of his targets for 124 yards. Exploiting Denver’s zone coverage, he personally outgained his opponents 109-94 in the first half on the way to his 36th 100-yard game (extending his own NFL record) and his sixth against the Broncos. He’s a bit of an Anti-Hero at times but you can’t deny that he is The Man.

We mustn’t forget that the Kansas City defense also played their part. They held Denver to 197 total yards and restricted Russell Wilson to 13 completions, with two interceptions and five sacks. Courtland Sutton (46) was the only Denver receiver with more than 16 receiving yards as Sean Payton was six minutes away from his first career shut-out. Yet somehow, trailing 16-0 in the fourth, Denver made it a one-score game when Sutton caught an 11-yard TD pass with some Style.

Remember, their lacklustre opponents shipped 70 points a fortnight ago so the Chiefs do need to improve offensively. Their inability to turn red-zone trips into touchdowns nearly cost them but luckily, you don’t have to be that good to beat Denver at the moment. And it helps if you have a Travis Kelce on your roster. The Mastermind behind it all, HC Andy Reid, also had an off-night, opting to kick or fake punt on short fourth downs when the Mahomes–Kelce connection was obviously humming.

Still, good teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing at their best and that seems to be the case with KC. This was their second sub-20 score of the season but they still covered the 10.5-point spread (just), progressed to 5-1 and tightened their grip on the top seed in the AFC. Based on recent history, we know All Too Well how this story ends. [ST]

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Browns solve the Brock Purdy conundrum

The Browns needed a brilliant defensive display on Sunday to stand any chance of beating the San Francisco 49ers heading into the weekend. They got it – and then some – in grinding out a 19-17 victory. The Browns defense has started the year like a juggernaut and after the latest win, they became the stingiest unit through five weeks in over 50 years, giving up 1,002 total yards in that span.

Niners QB Brock Purdy was harassed all day. He seemingly looked out of rhythm throughout as the Browns pass rush consistently applied pressure. The box score will only say three sacks but there were a further six QB hits and five tackles for loss recorded. Special credit goes to defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson who was seemingly deeper in the backfield than the 49ers running backs for most of the afternoon. 

Purdy completed just 44% of his passes for a mere 125 yards and threw his first interception of the season for good measure. It’s the lowest output for a Kyle Shanahan-led San Francisco team – that’s how special this Browns defensive performance was – after the Niners scored 42 against Dallas and put up 30-plus points in every game this campaign.

A lot will be made about Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel leaving the contest through injury. CMC had already scored his now-compulsory touchdown on the opening drive when he bagged 45 total yards. His final stat line read 11 carries for 43 yards so yes, he logged eight more carries for -2 yards after the opening drive. He left the game late in the third quarter.

Yes, Deebo was a big miss too but before we make too many excuses for the 49ers, let’s not forget about what the Browns were dealing with. No Deshaun Watson. No Nick Chubb. No Jack Conklin. And for the first time in his career, no Joel Bitonio. The deck was stacked against Cleveland but they had just enough from stand-in QB PJ Walker and company on offense to keep the game close. Walker was only sacked twice the whole day, Amari Cooper reeled in four grabs for 108 yards and the committee approach on the ground yielded 160 rushing yards. So if the Browns offense can get healthy, they have the luxury of playing with the best defense in football. [SB]

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Gang Green scalp the last of the unbeatens

After the Niners’ loss, we were left with just one undefeated team – the 5-0 Eagles – but by the end of Sunday night, the last 100% record in the NFL had also come crashing down. But Philly’s 20-14 defeat wasn’t just their first loss of the campaign; it was also their first loss to the Jets ever.

Despite their unblemished record, Philly haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season but have still found a way to win every week. But not this time. There were too many mistakes offensively and the Jets D came to play. They held the Eagles’ run game in check (Kenneth Gainwell posted just 13 rushing yards and D’Andre Swift ran for 18) and also restricted Jalen Hurts to 28 of 45 for 280 yards, one rushing TD and one TD pass. In playing Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and now Hurts, the 3-3 Jets have allowed three TD passes but had eight interceptions. Hats off to HC Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

The one bright spot for the Eagles’ attack was AJ Brown, who made hay without corners Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed patrolling the New York backfield. His seven catches for 131 yards means he’s posted four consecutive 120-yard games, which makes you wonder why he only got three targets after halftime. In fact, the whole Eagles team seemed to switch off in the second half, having led 14-9 at the break. Their fruitless second-half drives ended punt, punt, interception, missed FG, interception and turnover on downs, and only one went further than 35 yards.

While much of Jalen Hurts’ troubles came through Haason Reddick (two sacks, two tackles for loss) and Bryce Huff (1.5 sacks, nine QB pressures), it was those three interceptions from Quinnen Williams, Bryce Hall and Tony Adams that proved decisive. CJ Mosley also picked up a fumble by Swift. In being handed the ball back four times, New York scored 11 points. That defined the result in a game where Philly outgained their opponents by 100 yards, allowed fewer sacks, gave away fewer penalties and were much more efficient on third down. And other than a Breece Hall rushing TD and Randall Cobb two-point conversion, the only points they gave up came from Greg Zuerlien’s boot.

But for all that, it was the giveaways that killed the Eagles. If they’re going to keep their lofty perch at the top of the NFC, they’ll have to iron out such flaws from their game. Next week’s opponents, Miami, will really make them pay if they don’t. [ST]

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Jags pass the London test

The Jacksonville Jaguars are effectively known as “London’s team” because of their long-standing commitment to playing games in the UK. The International Series will go down as a roaring success once more with great ticket sales and viewership – the two things the league will care about. The big question this season was how would an NFL team respond to playing back-to-back games overseas without a bye week to come home to? 

The Jags completed their London double-header last week by taking down the Bills. But this week was probably the bigger test: how would Jacksonville respond when they returned across the Atlantic? A defensive takeaway and two offensive touchdowns in the opening four series has to go down as a pretty good start. With just over three minutes to go in the third quarter, the score was Jacksonville 31, Indianapolis 6. Game, set and match.

The Jaguars forced four turnovers on the day, including picking off Gardner Minshew three times and forcing a fumble against their old QB to boot. The 37-20 win was powered by defense and special teams, with 17 points coming from those turnovers (20 if you want to include the additional three via a turnover on downs late in the game). The Jags made Indy abandon the running game, which had led to their success against the Titans a week ago. The combination of Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor were limited to a measly 40 yards on a combined 15 carries.

Jacksonville looked sluggish out of the gates this season but the London trip was described three weeks ago by Doug Pederson as “hitting us at the right time”. His analysis certainly seems spot on. [SB]

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Can the backups step up?

This season, we’ve already seen a few QB injuries. Aaron Rodgers ruptured his Achilles four plays into the season, Joe Burrow has been struggling with a gammy calf, Deshaun Watson hasn’t suited up for the Browns in a couple of weeks and the Colts are currently riding with Gardner Minshew while Anthony Richardson contemplates season-ending surgery on his shoulder. And on Sunday, two more gunslingers went down, making their respective teams’ seasons all the more challenging.      

According to most pre-season pundits, the Las Vegas Raiders (now 3-3) were never going to tear up any trees this year but if they are without Jimmy Garoppolo for any length of time, their campaign will be even tougher sledding than expected. Jimmy G left the Raiders’ game with the Patriots in the first half after suffering a back injury, and was eventually taken to a local hospital for further tests. That left journeyman backup Brian Hoyer to pick up the pieces with the score at 13-3. Despite only throwing 6 of 10 for 102 yards and no TDs, at least he didn’t give away the ball, and eventually steered his team to a 21-17 victory.  

For all his limitations, at least we’ve all heard of Hoyer. When Chicago’s Justin Fields left Sunday’s game with Minnesota with a dislocated thumb after a Danielle Hunter sack, in stepped Tyson Bagent. Have you heard of him? Nope, me neither. The undrafted rookie immediately gave away a sack fumble that Jordan Hicks returned for a pick six. He did score a 1-yard rushing TD in the fourth to make it a one-score game but the newbie was picked off later, as the Bears slumped to a 19-13 loss.

Fields’ season so far has been a bit of a rollercoaster. After two great games against Denver and Washington, Bad Justin reappeared. Before his third-quarter injury, he was just 6 of 10 for 58 yards and an INT. Whether Bagent takes the reins in Chicago for an extended period of time depends on the results of an MRI but given the level of inconsistency at the position, this 1-5 team should be looking to draft a quarterback next year anyway. If the Bears select a Caleb Williams or a Drake Maye, it will push Bagent back down the pecking order (if they keep him at all) so what more motivation does he need to put some film together while he has the chance?

Next week, the Raiders and Bears face off at Soldier Field so with both teams potentially forced to employ stand-in QBs, each may feel that it’s the perfect time to play the other. [ST]

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Cream of the Kupp

Puka Nacua rightly made all the headlines in the opening weeks of the Rams’ season. Cooper Kupp, however, showed exactly why he has been the league’s leading receiver in recent years with a brilliant display in the LA Rams’ 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Kupp was the star turn in a performance that saw Los Angeles rack up 23 unanswered points, fighting back to an even .500 record while dropping their divisional foes to 1-5.

The biggest play of the day for Kupp sprung the Rams into life after a pretty anaemic first half. With no timeouts remaining and the length of the field ahead of them, Matthew Stafford dropped a dime right into the bucket of his star man for 49 yards. This allowed LA to kick a field goal to close out the half. It was nothing more than a simple go route where Kupp accelerated past the coverage and bizarrely, the Cardinals did not have any help over the top.

On the first possession of the second half, the Rams put together a scoring drive covering 10 plays, culminating in Kupp’s first receiving touchdown of the campaign. Again, it was Kei’Trel Clark who was beaten in coverage as Stafford found Kupp at the right pylon. The Rams never looked back. Kupp finished the day with seven catches for 148 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, making up over 65% of the Rams’ total passing attack on the day. 

It was a second half in particular where the Rams leaned heavily on the run so special praise should also be heaped on Kyren Williams who had himself a career day (20 carries, 158 rushing yards and a TD). With that said, when the chips were down, it was always Kupp who had his number called. With a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, the Rams faced 2nd-and-17. Two passing plays later, we’d seen two Cooper Kupp receptions and 29 yards gained. He is Mr Reliable and it’s safe to say the main man is back in town. [SB]

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Takeaways from the Broncos’ week five loss to the Jets

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With so much riding on this game surrounding Sean Payton’s preseason comments and the comeback win last week, it felt like this was a game where the Broncos could really turn the tide of their season at home to a struggling Jets side. 

In reality, it was a watershed moment for all the wrong reasons and Broncos country is starting to feel that all-too-familiar disappointment once again before the leaves have even started to fall off the trees in autumn.

So here it is, four takeaways from the Broncos’ loss to the New York Jets.

Worst the offence has played this season 

In the opening four weeks a lot of blame was levelled at the defence, for good reason, however, this week, the offence took the reigns. 

The defence was getting stops in the first half and if it hadn’t been for a bad safety in the first quarter, the Broncos would have been in an even more dominant position heading into halftime.

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In the second half the offence completely fell apart, with four three-and-outs and a fumble culminating in minus eight total yards of offensive production in the second half until a 60-yard touchdown drive to make the score 24-21.

The defence managed to come up clutch late in the fourth quarter with an interception but once again the offence failed to fire and Russell Wilson fumbled the ball to Bryce Hall who iced the game, returning it for a touchdown.

The offensive woes were highlighted when the Broncos gained good field position from a special teams play from their own punt and two snaps later, the Jets regained possession due to a poorly executed end-around double pitch. 

Hopefully, it’s a blip and the offence will return to their levels from the first four weeks, if they hope to even lay a glove on the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, they’ll have to.

Defence inconsistent again 

The defence carried their late-game momentum from last week into the opening stages of this game against the Jets.

In the first half, the defence held Zach Wilson and the Jets to 20 total yards of offence in the first quarter. 

In the second quarter, the Jets started to move the ball better but once again the Broncos’ defence held them to only three points.

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In the second half though, they couldn’t stop the Jets from moving the ball, particularly Breece Hall who notched 177 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The pass rush got home four times and Patrick Surtain II picked off Zach Wilson to give the Broncos the ball back with time running down to go ahead but the offence couldn’t capitalise. 

After the year the defence has had, Sunday was encouraging, however, the inconsistencies were still frustrating to see.

Payton ate his words 

Sean Payton’s comments about Nathaniel Hackett’s head coaching job in Denver last year are common knowledge now among anyone who follows the NFL.

On Sunday, Payton was made to eat those words, the loss doesn’t change the past but it certainly raises questions about how much of last season was on Hackett. 

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The offence has undoubtedly looked better under Payton than it did under Hackett but in general they still appear to be a poorly coached team. 

Is that hangover from the last regime? It’s unlikely because there are plenty of new faces in the building.

One thing is for certain, after the comments he made Payton made himself a target especially heading into this game, and it spectacularly backfired on him.

The fire sale has begun 

On Monday, NFL insider James Palmer suggested that a fire sale of Broncos talent may commence soon in light of the team’s 1-4 record. 

It’s no surprise that the team are looking to start a rebuild again and with the current salary cap situation and the lack of draft capital, it seems trading assets away is the only option. 

It’s highly unlikely that the Broncos will be worse than the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers this season, at the very least, so the number one overall pick and therefore Caleb Williams seems like a pipedream. 

Despite that, Russell Wilson’s play hasn’t been the reason the Broncos are 1-4 so would a quarterback really be the target? 

Albeit, the Broncos certainly have tradable pieces on offence and defence so if Payton and general manager George Paton believe that’s the way they want to go then they could definitely receive a lot of capital in return.

Week 6 TNF preview 

It doesn’t get any easier for the Broncos, next week, a trip to Arrowhead awaits to play the formidable Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. 

The Broncos have lost 15 straight against their AFC West rivals and the Chiefs have started the season hot, despite not being wholly convincing.

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The Chiefs sit at 4-1 and are on a four-game win streak after their loss to the Detroit Lions on the opening night of the season. 

The Broncos slipped to 1-4 and are once again gearing themselves up for a winter bereft of playoff football and more top-ten draft selection talk in springtime.