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PICK SIX – Week 12

This week’s NFL action was nicely spread out over several days, due to the holiday season in the United States. But while our American cousins gorged on turkey and pumpkin pie – and football of course – Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler set to work picking six more things to discuss from the Week 12 slate. This week, we expand on two players breaking records, the Steelers’ rejuvenated offense, our first Black Friday game, the sub-par NFC South and possibly the best game of the season so far.

DaRon sets Bland-new record

During his team’s annual Thanksgiving Day game on Thursday, Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland snared his fifth pick-six of the year, setting a new single-season record in the process. He intercepted Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell and returned it 63 yards, eluding Howell, Brian Robinson and Terry McLaurin on his way to the paint.

The ensuing celebration lasted so long that Head Coach Mike McCarthy had to call a timeout before the extra point attempt. And the timing couldn’t have been better for the Californian, whose family was in town for the holidays. “It means everything to break the record in front of them,” Bland said postgame, “and do it on Thanksgiving Day is another thing to be thankful for.”

As well as sticking a cherry on the top of a comfortable 45-10 victory, the play vaulted the second-year cornerback above Eric Allen, Jim Kearny and Ken Houston in the NFL record books for the most defensive TDs in a season. Bland also becomes the leader in career pick-sixes in Cowboys franchise history.

Even last year, as a rookie drafted from Fresno State in Round 5, the promise of what was to come was evident in the five interceptions he made while filling in for an injured Jourdan Lewis. But this season, the step up has been exponential. The 24-year-old has transformed into a premier defensive playmaker, accumulating 48 tackles, 13 passes defensed and a league-leading seven interceptions.

This year, Bland has yet to go more than two consecutive games without a touchdown. His journey into the record books began even before he was thrust into the starting lineup when Trevon Diggs tore his ACL in practice ahead of Week 3. His 22-yard pick-six in an opening-day 40-0 rout of the Giants was soon followed by scores against the Patriots (54 yards), Rams (30 yards), Panthers (30 yards) and now the Commanders. His five defensive TDs are two more than any other team has accrued this season (the Colts and the Seahawks are the closest with three) and within the Cowboys camp, he only trails Cee Dee Lamb on either side of the ball. For added context, his tally is just one shy of the New York Jets’ entire offensive output.

With six more regular season games still to go, Dallas fans will be keen to see if Bland can extend his record yet further. But for now, his exceptional instincts and ability to read the game is something every Cowboys fan should be thankful for. [ST]

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Steelers win – with offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers finally ended the longest streak in the league for most games without 400 yards on offense in Week 12. They officially surpassed the 400-yard mark, in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against their divisional foes from Cincinnati, with a 13-yard run from Najee Harris.

The last time they put up 400 yards in a single game was way back, some 1,162 days ago — in Week 2 of the 2020 season. The 424 yards was also the most gained by their offense since the 429 posted against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16 of 2018. It was a welcome sight for an offense that ranked 28th in yards per game entering the pivotal AFC North matchup.

Despite only scoring 16 points in the victory over the Bengals, there’s little doubt that the Steelers offense looked as good as it has all season. The game came just five days after the firing of Matt Canada as the team’s offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan and running backs coach Eddie Faulkner are working in tandem as interim OCs, with Sullivan calling plays from the sideline and Faulkner handling the bulk of the other day-to-day responsibilities.

The obvious conclusion from the eye test was a more explosive attack. The opening play of the game saw a 24-yard connection to Pat Freiermuth – the first of six plays over 20 yards. The tight end went on to register over 100 yards receiving. Najee Harris also had his best game of the season as the Steelers dominated time of possession and outgained an opponent for the first time all season.

Now, the Green Bay Packers hold the longest active streak for most consecutive games without 400+ net yards, holding an 18-game streak dating back to Week 11 of the 2022 season. [SB]

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Another black day for the Jets

The NFL does like to hitch itself to traditional holidays and milk them for all they’re worth. It’s had games on Christmas Day for decades and Thanksgiving matchups since 1934, with the late night game becoming an annual thing in 2006. Now, amid the retail madness that is Black Friday, the NFL has jumped on the bandwagon again.

At 3pm ET on Friday, the New York Jets – in black uniforms, naturally – played host to the Miami Dolphins in an all-AFC East clash, mirroring the three divisional games from the previous day. The first-ever Black Friday match was aired exclusively by Amazon Prime Video for free (even for non-Prime members) and inevitably, money lies at the heart of the development. The Thanksgiving Day games have separate TV rights and after CBS, Fox and NBC took their noses out of the trough, there was none of the $1 billion pie left. Undeterred, Amazon proposed an annual game the day after, to coincide with its biggest shopping event of the year, and shelled out $100 million to the NFL for the privilege.

Through the 11-year deal, they should make a healthy return on their investment through interactive adverts and QR codes for viewers to scan before, during and after the game. The ads were even tailored to different audiences – depending on whether the viewer was already a Prime member, for example. This latest move in the battle for consumer dollars during the holiday season is designed to encourage millions of football fans to leave the malls early, head home for the game and continue shopping from the couch, smart phone in hand, via Amazon. Ker-ching!

On the field, as expected, it was a one-sided affair, with Miami sealing a 34-13 win in a fast-emptying stadium. Raheem Mostert (94 rushing yards) ran in for two scores, Jaylen Waddle led the receiving corps with 114 yards and Tyreek Hill (nine catches for 102 yards) handed the ball from his 7-yard TD reception to his new wife Keeta (Keeta and the Cheetah? Cute!). But for the Jets, things got ugly… and stayed that way. Tim Boyle’s Hail Mary attempt being returned for a 99-yard pick-six by Jevon Holland pretty much summed up their day.  

But what now for BFF (Black Friday Football)? Well, the fixture is already being talked about as an annual affair and franchises like the Cincinnati Bengals have already volunteered to be the regular host, much like the Cowboys and Lions are on Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the NFL politely declined Cincy’s offer and opted to go with New York, the country’s biggest retail market – at least for now. Lucrative though that may be, the league should think twice before agreeing to head back to MetLife Stadium for the next one because on the day after Thanksgiving, Americans have probably had enough turkeys. [ST]

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11k Kelce

It’s not been a bad few months for Travis Kelce. Super Bowl champion, tick. Dating pop megastar, tick. Fastest tight end to reach 11,000 career receiving yards, tick.

His latest feat was accomplished on the back of a 27-yard reception in the second quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders, which contributed towards his tally of 91 total yards on six receptions. It was a gorgeous connection and fitting that such a play would be the record breaker. Kelce bullied Divine Deablo off the line and broke towards the corner. Mahomes dropped a dime into his bucket with a safety closing in and a couple of other trailing defenders narrowing the window.

It was a much-needed contribution that helped the Chiefs rebound from an early 14-point deficit. The aforementioned 27-yard catch came on the pre-half-time drive where KC knotted up the scoreboard and they would not look back. Recent second-half struggles were nowhere to be seen as Kelce and co. moved the ball with ease, gaining 17 second-half points and a big division win just when things were starting to look a little tricky for the Chiefs.

Kelce’s new mark, reaching 11,000 yards in just 154 games, comfortably eclipses the previous record set by Tony Gonzalez (191 games). The question now becomes whether Kelce can hunt down the other record held by Gonzalez: most receiving yards in history for a tight end. That currently sits at 15,127 so there’s still some way to go. Having just turned 34, Kelce would realistically need a strong finish to this campaign and probably sustain at least three more seasons at this level. Antonio Gates is next on the list to surpass, followed by Jason Witten so they are the next two hurdles to overcome. And while he is Patrick Mahomes’ most reliable target, it would be foolish to bet against him.

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Falcons heading north in the South

On Sunday, Taylor Heinicke’s hamstring injury meant Desmond Ridder came back in from the cold after his Week 9 benching but with his proclivity for turnovers (six lost fumbles and six INTs), it won’t be QB play that takes Atlanta to the playoffs, should they get there. Indeed, it was their RBs and DBs who starred in a 25-14 win over the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta’s ground attack cranked out an impressive 228 yards, with rookie Bijan Robinson rumbling for 91 rushing yards and a score, backed by Tyler Allgeier (64), Cordarrelle Patterson (43) and Ridder himself (30). On the other side of the ball, Jessie Bates’ 92-yard pick six was the game’s highlight, while his timely punch-out to force a Taysom Hill fumble on the 9-yard line wasn’t far behind.

The win not only ends a three-game losing skid but also vaults Atlanta over their opponents and up into first place in the basket case that is the NFC South. Last year, all four teams posted losing records, with the 7-10 Saints, Panthers and Falcons all trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who snuck into the playoffs at 8-9. These things are often one-season anomalies but in the worst division in football (© everyone), history is repeating itself. Pre-season, this was ranked the weakest pool by every pundit who proffered an opinion. And sure enough, all the other divisional pacesetters are currently 8-3 or better but here, the Falcons head the pack at 5-6.

The Panthers, now 1-10 after Sunday’s loss to the Titans, are the worst team in football. To be fair, they’d been decimated by injuries even before this weekend, when Leviska Shenault, Vonn Bell and others joined the growing list of casualties. But even so, rookie QB Bryce Young just isn’t cutting it and after 11 games, their offense sits at or near the bottom of the pile in just about every metric. No wonder HC Franck Reich got the Order of the Boot yesterday, not even getting to one-and-done. No one here’s making the postseason via the Wild Card route but the fact that Carolina can still win this dumpster fire of a group is mindboggling.

Their next opponents are the Bucs (4-7). It seems the post-Tom Brady experiment with Baker Mayfield hasn’t worked and with the NFL’s worst rushing attack and the second-worst pass defense, they may also be in the market for a new head coach soon. After more erratic play in a 27-20 loss to the Colts this weekend, they’re stuck in third place, behind the Saints (5-6). In the Big Easy, star man Alvin Kamara isn’t exactly tearing up trees, Michael Thomas is back on IR and the red zone has become their kryptonite.

So, by default, that leaves the Falcons – a team that hasn’t bettered seven wins since 2017 – as the least-worst bet for the NFC South crown as we enter December. The Dirty Birds are 3-0 in the division and there’s no team with a winning record left on their schedule. Looking down the stretch in the NFC South, there’s only one week left without a divisional clash of some sort and the final one – the Falcons/Saints rematch – may yet decide which of these unworthy teams hosts a playoff game. I’m hardly sticking my neck out by predicting there’s more ugly football to come in the remaining weeks but however bad it is, at least it’ll be competitive! [ST]

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Game of the season… so far

What a game! Buffalo 34-37 Philadelphia. It was a game that ebbed and flowed, and ultimately came down to some more Jalen Hurts brilliance as the Eagles found a way to secure yet another win. 

It was rather baffling and stupid that the home crowd booed off the team at halftime despite their impressive record to date. Yes, the Bills had been good, dominant in fact. They left six costly points off the board with a field goal block and a field goal miss either side of the half-time whistle. Josh Allen had a great night, throwing for more than 330 yards, but he could only look on as Hurts and company took over in the second half.

The Philly QB had five total touchdowns including three through the air. They included one to DeVonta Smith, who continues to turn heads towards the business end of the campaign. AJ Brown and Olamide Zaccheaus caught the others. 

It was almost in vain, however, as the Bills edged ahead after the two-minute warning. The problem, however, was that Hurts still had time. The Eagles drove into field goal range and Jake Elliott booted a 59-yarder to force overtime. The Bills won the toss and Josh Allen got down to the Eagles’ 22 but Buffalo had to settle for another FG. That gave the Eagles yet another life. They grasped it with both hands and capped a nine-play drive with a Hurts 12-yard scramble for the win. The Eagles yet again found a way, and their quarterback proved yet again he can be the difference maker in the big moments. [SB]

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PICK SIX – Week 9

Well, that was Week 9 folks, which means we are already halfway through the regular season. Crazy, huh? Still, at least Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler are here to pick six more things to mull over. With young quarterbacks, strong AFC North performances, the floundering ‘Phins and a new era in Las Vegas catching the eye, let’s just dive right in…

Schwartz plays another hit tune

It would have been music to the ears of Jim Schwartz and his Browns defense when the Arizona Cardinals decided to trade away Joshua Dobbs this week and start rookie Clayton Tune. The Browns defense has caused carnage for many a quarterback this season and Sunday was possibly their greatest hit yet.

Tune was involved in all three of the turnovers forced by the feasting Browns. Two were interceptions, one of which was brilliantly reeled in by an athletic leap from Denzel Ward, who is arguably having the best season of his career. The other turnover was a forced fumble recovered by Myles Garrett following a sack by interior defensive lineman Shelby Harris. The sack was one of seven on the day for the unit, which also added an additional 14 tackles for loss. When you consider that Arizona ran 45 plays on the day, that equates to 47% of them losing yardage.

It’s not the first time we have looked at this Browns defense in this column but it continues at an incredible pace. The front four were that dominant yesterday that the blitz was only sent on 12% of plays. The Cardinals were held to just one of 12 third-down conversions as well as failing on their only fourth-down attempt. The deepest Arizona got into the Browns half was the 40-yard line and the play from that spot resulted in the Sione Takitaki interception. 

The end result was just 58 yards of offense generated by the Cardinals, their lowest output in franchise history, and their first shutout since 2018. To put it into further context, the Browns managed 59 yards in one offensive play with Deshaun Watson finding Amari Cooper deep. If Watson can shake off some of the obvious rust and produce even average quarterback play, this Browns team will be one many want to avoid. [SB]

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Ravens in a rush

Say what you like about the other AFC divisional leaders but I think the Ravens are currently outplaying the Chiefs, Dolphins and Jaguars. And with Kansas City and Miami both on byes this week, Baltimore could well be the top seed in the conference this time next week. They have also proven that they’re far superior than at least two NFC division front-runners of late, following up their shellacking of Detroit in Week 7 with a 37-3 trouncing of NFC West pace-setters Seattle on Sunday. Both came into M&T Bank Stadium at 5-2 and both left with a flea in their ear and their tails between their legs.

What was billed as the top tussle of the early afternoon slate proved to be a decidedly lopsided contest by halftime and became a massacre by the end. Seattle’s offense managed a paltry 151 yards, went one of 12 on third downs and secured just six first downs – one fewer than the number of scoring drives their opponents had.

At home in particular, their offense has been dominant and this weekend, the Ravens posted a season-high 515 total yards. Mark Andrews took his nine grabs for 80 yards while Odell Beckham Jr. had 56 yards and a TD, but the bulk of the damage was done on the ground, with 298 rushing yards (and three rushing scores) dished out at an impressive average of 7.3 per clip. The top 30 rushing performances of the week included four Baltimore players. Justice Hill (40 yards), Gus Edwards (52 yards and 2 TDs) and Lamar Jackson (60 yards) all made their mark, but the new star this week was undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell. Having not posted a single touch so far this season, Mitchell broke out with nine carries for 138 yards (average 15.3), a long of 60 yards and his first NFL touchdown off a 40-yard scamper.

As well as possessing an ominously effective offense (first in rushing yards and sixth in both yards per game and points per game), the Ravens also boast the NFL’s top defense, sitting second in yards allowed per game and leading the NFL in points allowed per game. They sacked Geno Smith four times – Kyle Van Noy got two on consecutive plays in the second quarter – and their 35 QB takedowns also leads the league.

The 7-2 Ravens have now reeled off four consecutive victories to stay two clear of the field in a highly competitive AFC North and are starting to look like Super Bowl contenders. They are quietly rolling over every opponent they face and could put one hand on the divisional crown by Week 11, with back-to-back home games against Cleveland and Cincinnati coming up. So get the popcorn in, sit back and enjoy the show. [ST]

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Allow me to introduce Joshua Dobbs

It’s not often the game-winning quarterback has to introduce himself to his team’s fans, but that is exactly what happened on Sunday night in Atlanta. The Minnesota Vikings, smarting from the loss of Kirk Cousins, had decided to hand the keys to rookie Jaren Hall. It seemed prudent as newly acquired back-up Joshua Dobbs only joined the team on a deadline day trade and hadn’t even taken a snap with the first team in practice. Hall started the game pretty well but got knocked out of the game with concussion, meaning the stage was set for Dobbs.

In bizarre scenes, the FOX broadcast caught sight of the offensive line and Dobbs going through the team’s five primary cadences as he hadn’t even gone through them before. Dobbs would later admit to not even knowing everyone by name but regardless, it was time to step in and deliver.

Things got off to a rough start as Dobbs was sacked in the end zone on only his third snap. Things did settle down, however, and he led the Vikings to a come-from-behind win on the road. Connecting with Alexander Mattison on a simple 2-yard play action pass, Dobbs later scrambled in from 18 yards away. It was one of a few highlight reel runs as his rushing total of 66 yards proved enough to make him the leading rusher in the game. His best run was arguably on 4th and 7 on the game’s final drive. The play had completely broken down but Dobbs managed to avoid tacklers and keep the drive alive.

It led to a connection with Brandon Powell from 6 yards out with just 22 seconds left on the clock, putting the Vikings in front. Dobbs showed poise throughout and will likely get the nod next week regardless of the injury status of Hall. Just imagine what a week of practice might do! [SB]

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Stroud celebrates with a high-five

Historic. Unrivalled. Miraculous. Words that usually accompany unsubstantiated hyperbole. But in the case of Houston Texans QB CJ Stroud, they’re just factual descriptions of his record-setting day against Tampa Bay.

The rookie signal-caller has certainly had an impressive start to his first pro campaign but in steering the Texans to a last-gasp 39-37 win over the Bucs, he went nuclear. Going 30 of 42 for 470 yards, as well as a career-high five touchdowns, Stroud smashed the single-game record for passing yards by a rookie QB (topping Andrew Luck’s 433 from 2012) and became the only rookie in NFL history with 400-plus passing yards, four-plus passing TDs and no interceptions in a game. Take a bow, son.

Overcoming some initial hesitancy, Stroud morphed into the Terminator, throwing for 364 yards in the second half. The team’s receiving corps all reaped the benefits. Three players eclipsed 100 yards and a score (Tank Dell: 114 yards and 2 TDs; Noah Brown: 153 yards and 1 TD; Dalton Schultz: 130 yards and 1 TD) while Nico Collins also got a TD. Even when that impudent elf Baker Mayfield tried to steal the limelight, putting the Buccaneers 37-33 ahead with just 46 seconds left with a touchdown pass to Cade Otton, the No.2 draft pick didn’t blink. He simply orchestrated his own six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive – connecting with Dell for the winning score – to snatch a clutch win with 00:06 on the clock.

Even when they lost kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn to a quad injury in the second half, this spirited, never-say-die Houston team found a way. Having resorted to fourth-down and two-point attempts instead of field goals and extra points, they finally accepted that a kick was unavoidable inside the red zone. Cue running back Dare Ogunbowale, who stepped up to convert a go-ahead FG from 29 yards out and became the first RB to kick a field goal since 1979. Given the margin of victory, his contribution cannot be understated.

Sunday’s performance must put Stroud in pole position for Offensive Rookie of the Year and DeMeco Ryans (Coach of the Year, anyone?) has the 4-4 Texans in contention in the AFC South, only a year removed from a disastrous 3-13-1 campaign. They’ve already racked up more wins than last year, they sit second in the division and they’ve got a win against the Jaguars under their belt. This team may not be perfect – 10 wins over the past three years and a loss to the previously winless Panthers just last week says a lot – but they’re young and fearless… and above all, fun. [ST]

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Dolphins disappoint in another true test

Are the Miami Dolphins a good football team? Some weeks, you watch them put opponents to the sword and you think they are the team to beat in the AFC. Put them in against a well-matched opponent, however, and things look slightly less rosy. With a 21-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Frankfurt on Sunday, they now have a perfect 0-3 record against teams with a winning record. It should be a real concern for ‘Phins fans as we move towards the business end of the season.

Credit goes to the Chiefs for completely shutting down the Dolphins offense in the first half. They were held scoreless at the break for the first time in the Mike McDaniel era. The highlight, however, was the Chiefs defense putting points on the scoreboard themselves. A short pass found its way to Tyreek Hill but he was stripped of the ball by Trent McDuffie. Mike Edwards recovered the fumble and began to advance it but he looked for all the world that he was about to be tackled or fall down. In a moment of brilliance, he lateralled the ball to Bryan Cook who scampered the remaining 59 yards down the sideline to the end zone.

Miami did threaten a second-half comeback as two third-quarter touchdowns reduced the deficit to just seven points. The Chiefs offense produced nothing in the second half, finishing with fewer than 50 yards in the period but Miami still could not capitalise. In two bizarre drives when attempting the comeback, the Dolphins mustered 34 yards from a 12-play drive lasting nearly 8 minutes, before turning the ball over on downs inside the final two minutes.

They seemed more concerned about giving the Chiefs the ball back with time on the clock than scoring, and paid the price. Raheem Mostert had gashed the Chiefs for 44 yards on runs either side of the two-minute warning, setting Miami up at the Chiefs’ 31. However, they elected to let 40 seconds drain off the game clock before running the next play, which fell incomplete through the air. Two incompletions later and it was fourth down. Symbolically, the Dolphins’ comeback attempt effectively ended on a botched snap as Tua Tagovailoa mishandled – and that was all she wrote. [SB]

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Raiders of the lost art (of winning)

Sometimes, when the atmosphere gets all hot and unpleasant, you just need a good ol’ thunderstorm to clear the air and bring some freshness back. And so it’s proved in Las Vegas. Last week’s storm – a primetime loss, a feisty team meeting where players aired their feelings and the subsequent dismissal of GM Dave Ziegler, HC Josh McDaniels and OC Mick Lombardi – has now abated, the clouds have parted and there are even faint glimmers of sunlight peeking through.

Their 30-6 win on Sunday gave interim HC Antonio Pierce his first NFL victory as a head coach. It came against the team where he spent five years and won a Super Bowl, the hapless 2-7 New York Giants, who seem hell-bent on giving the Cardinals, Panthers and Bears a run for their money in the race to pick first in the 2024 Draft.

The Las Vegas cause was undoubtedly helped by the Giants’ continuing quarterback woes. Daniel Jones, back after three weeks out with a neck injury, took two sacks in the first half and sat out the rest of the game with a potentially serious knee injury. His replacement, rookie Tommy DeVito, struggled again after a tough debut against the Jets a week ago, with picks on consecutive passes in the second quarter leading to 10 points for the Raiders. To his credit, DeVito finished with a respectable 175 yards on 15 of 20 but also took six sacks. But with Jones and Tyrod Taylor both out and two road games on the schedule before their bye, it’s going to be tough sledding for Big Blue.

For all that, the Raiders were more than worthy of their comfortable win, scoring the first 27 points unanswered. Aidan O’Connell looked clean in his second start since replacing Jimmy G, going 9 of 10 for 130 yards before halftime. OK, he didn’t throw a TD pass but he also didn’t give the ball away and didn’t take a sack. Although Davante Adams (four catches for 34 yards) is still being criminally underused, the offense did benefit from Josh Jacobs’ best outing of the year (98 rushing yards and 2 TDs). On the other side of the ball, Maxx Crosby had three sacks. No.98 now has 9.5 sacks for the year, trailing only Danielle Hunter.

How much this result means in the long term remains to be seen but for now, Pierce has steered the Raiders to 4-5, with a shot of reaching .500 when the New York Jets come to town next week. Filmed laughing, joking and enjoying victory cigars in the locker room after the game, these players may yet start to shine – especially now that they don’t have to play for a coach they despise. [ST]

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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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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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D-fence!

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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PICK SIX – Week 5

We’re five weeks into the season and we – Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler – are here to pick six more things that caught our eye in the last round of games. This week, our interest-o-meter was set off by the Bears waking up, the Bills going to sleep and the Steelers defying all logic, plus CJ Stroud, Brock Purdy and Bill Belichick. Let’s pick the meat off the bones.

Bears emerge from hibernation

It’s fair to say that Chicago have not been having any fun lately. They came into Thursday night on a run of 14 losses stretching back 350 days (the longest losing streak in their 104-year history). They had just squandered a 21-point lead to the Broncos. Their DC resigned in Week 2. Exiled WR Chase Claypool was shipped off to Miami. And before the game, the passing of franchise legend Dick Butkus was announced.

But, as the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn and on TNF, they – one of the league’s two remaining winless teams – finally got the dub they’d been so desperate for. The Bears travelled to Washington to face a feisty Commanders team that took the Eagles to OT the previous week and despite starting as six-point underdogs, they got a deserved 40-20 victory. They shot out to a 27-3 halftime lead but unlike last week, the Bears didn’t buckle when injuries, not least to RB Khalil Herbert, started to bite. Indeed, they sacked Sam Howells five times.

But it was the connection between Justin Fields and DJ Moore that decided this matchup. Despite only completing 15 passes to just three different players – Moore, plus tight ends Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan – Fields (282 passing yards/4 TDs) torched Emmanuel Forbes and Kendall Fuller all night. With 617 yards, eight TDs and one INT in his past two games, he suddenly seems to have found his groove.

Moore was the main beneficiary, with a career-high (and TNF-high) 230 receiving yards and 3 TDs from just eight catches. That haul makes him the first Bears player in the Super Bowl era with 200+ receiving yards and 3+ receiving TDs in a game. Moore’s numbers were boosted by chunk plays of 58, 56, 39, 32 and 20 yards, and he could’ve had another big TD had a fourth-quarter bomb not been overthrown.

So, after an entire year of losing every which way, the Bears – and HC Matt Eberflus – can finally enjoy a W. Which means you can drag that meme, which showed Chicago as the only franchise across the big four US sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) that hadn’t won a game since Elon Musk bought Twitter in October 2022, off your desktop and into the recycle bin. [ST]

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Stroud and proud

It has been a record-breaking start to a career for Texans quarterback CJ Stroud and during the Week 5 21-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he added more records to his name. He has now started his young NFL career with 186 passing attempts without throwing an interception. That mark eclipses the 176 attempts made by Dak Prescott when he started in the NFL and sets the new benchmark for 2024 and beyond.

It is one of those stats that could be meaningless, however. Essentially tossing the ball into the stands on every play would avoid an interception but wouldn’t be an ideal gameplan to win in the NFL. The fact is, Stroud has accomplished this feat while playing well and pumping much-needed life and optimism into the Texans franchise.

He may not have had his best game on Sunday but the big players show up in the big moments. Down by 6 with just under seven minutes to go, Stroud orchestrated an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a beautiful 18-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dalton Schultz. It moved the Texans in front but it would be the last time Stroud touched the football as the Falcons managed the clock, to kick a game-winning field goal as the clock hit zero.

It would not be an understatement to suggest that Stroud doesn’t have the most stellar of supporting casts. With that said, it seems as though the Texans have found the answer at the most important position on the field. Stroud is giving his team every opportunity to win, he is not turning the ball over and he will surely only continue to get better and better. Houston may have found a really good one. [SB]

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To err is human

These days, everything is ‘smart’: our TVs, our central heating, our phones, pretty much every piece of tech has gone beyond automation and is now seemingly capable of sentient thought. The robots will soon take over, believe me, and the revolution seems to have started, ever-so-quietly, in the most unexpected of places: among the ranks of NFL quarterbacks.

Last month, Chicago QB Justin Fields blamed his ‘robotic’ play on his coaches, who were feeding him too much information. That’s just what a robot would do, isn’t it – blame us unpredictable, flawed humans for making him look too mechanical. Not convinced? OK, fair enough. But how do you explain Niners quarterback Brock Purdy?

The last name picked in the 2022 NFL draft has now been at the helm of 10 straight regular season wins since starting for the 49ers. He is a machine – literally. The so-called Mr Irrelevant has yet to lose (other than the time he had to leave the field in the first quarter against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, presumably to have a circuit board resoldered or his mainframe rebooted). He had just one incompletion last week against Arizona and has yet to throw an interception five games into the new season. In his latest outing – Sunday’s 42-10 trouncing of Dallas – he went 17 of 24 for 252 yards and a career-high four TDs, three of them to George Kittle. He’s improving week by week without regression: that’s machine learning for you.

Broadcaster Kyle Brandt, the co-host of Good Morning Football, has this running joke that Purdy is an AI experiment. He’s had some fantastic rants about Purdy not bleeding, sweating or even blinking, and his conspiracy theory has even been picked up by the UK press. “I think there is a conspiracy that will certainly come out years from now that they wanted the first artificial intelligence player,” he told The Mirror. “They’re like: ‘We need to start introducing AI into the game.’”

It’s obviously just a bit of fun but what if he’s actually right? With someone (something?) this consistent, this dependable, you can’t rule it out. Maybe it’s a Truman-Show-style social experiment but until Purdy shows that he’s fallible – and I’m not talking about them programming an algorithm into the matrix to make him appear more human – I’m with Kyle. Brock Purdy’s a machine, the 49ers are going 17-0 and the day the robots take over is closer than you think. [ST]

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The GOAT keeps being slaughtered

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the boo birds at Gillette Stadium but this Sunday, they were out in full force. It’s been a quiet three years post-Tom Brady, with most fans giving Bill Belichick plenty of time and grace to rebuild the powerhouse franchise of the first 20 years of the millennium. Those heady days of winning 17 out of 20 divisional titles, nine conference championships and six Super Bowls feel like a lifetime ago.

For New England, the head coach is still the face of the franchise, and therein lies the problem. Name a superstar on the New England roster. You can’t. They don’t have any that you could name. But they do have plenty of journeymen. Ezekiel Elliot last played quality football three or four years ago. JuJu Smith-Schuster was the Steelers’ number 1 receiver three or four years ago. Hunter Henry, the tight end, may have become something special in San Diego – and no, that isn’t a typo, that’s how long ago it was. And I haven’t even mentioned Brady’s ‘replacement’, Mac Jones, as that’s a whole other story.

Normally, a Belichick defense will at least keep things tight. How does shipping 72 points in two weeks sound? The Cowboys are a team that can rack up points on any given week but the Saints? New Orleans had scored less than 21 points in 10 straight games, yet they rocked up to Foxborough and put up the biggest shutout scoreline against the Patriots in their history (34-0). 

The quote from the press conference Belichick used after the game was: “So just plain and simply, we’ve got to find a way to play and coach better than that. So that’s what we are going to do: start all over and get back on a better track than we’re on right now.” Maybe the answer is that the Patriots truly start again and hand the keys over completely, as this current version of New England is a mirage of what once was. [SB]

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No jet lag for the Jags

On reflection, the second International Series game of the season, a 25-20 win for the Jaguars over the Bills at Tottenham Stadium, didn’t quite live up to the hype. The game only kicked into life midway through the fourth quarter, when the teams traded four TDs – two each. Until then though, it had all been rather attritional, with the defenses on top and offenses struggling to fill the highlight reel.

Sure, the Jags secured their second win on these shores in a week and deserved to move to 3-2. Trevor Lawrence threw for 315 yards but only one TD – the game’s opener to Zay Jones – leaving the bulk of the damage to be done by Travis Etienne (136 yards and 2 rushing TDs) and Calvin Ridley (seven catches for 122 yards). They did have some trouble with drops and fumbles, but their D stepped up when needed, forcing the Bills to punt six times and leaving them with under 22 minutes of possession.

Beforehand, this clash looked to be one of the better of the 35 contests to be staged in our capital, and many – me included – were expecting a shootout. Both teams are tipped for postseason action and the Bills, who had scored 123 points in their last three games, were arguably the hottest team in the league. Yet they rarely showed it. Josh Allen threw for just 23 yards in the first quarter, the Bills mustered 29 rushing yards all game and they committed 11 penalties for 109 yards. With Greg Rousseau, Tre’Davious White and Shaq Lawson already out, Matt Milano leaving early with a broken leg, DaQuan Jones also injuring a pec and the returning Von Miller on a snap count, it was mainly left to AJ Epenesa (with two of his team’s five sacks) to keep things competitive on the defensive side. A scoreless third quarter meant that theoretically, everything was still to play for but the Jags looked in control and always stayed a score or two ahead.

On Friday’s media day, Stefon Diggs called his QB ‘sleepyhead’ and Allen himself admitted to having “a few coffees” to stay awake, even though he doesn’t normally drink the stuff. Then in the post-match presser, he confessed “We never felt like we got into a rhythm until late in the game.” Which does make you wonder: how much of a factor is the international travel? The Buffalo team flew in to the UK overnight on Thursday and stayed up to practice on Friday, in an attempt to overcome the five-hour time dfference. But it didn’t seem to have the desired effect, with the Bills looking like they had yet to acclimatise or adjust to a game that kicked off at 9.30am Eastern time.

By contrast, Jacksonville had been in London for 10 days, having beaten Atlanta at Wembley the week before. I guess the success of the Jaguars’ extended stay makes back-to-back games in London more likely in the future, but it also raises the question as to whether it will give them a massive advantage. [ST]

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The Steelers top the North. How?

“The AFC North: toughest division in football” is a line often thrown around by commentators. But after five weeks of the season, the toughest thing about it is figuring out if any of the teams are actually any good. There is a solitary game between the four divisional rivals after the opening quarter of the season. The team at the top? The one with a minus 31 point differential: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In an awful game full of mistakes and miscues from both sides, the Steelers somehow managed to conjure up 14 points in the 4th quarter to beat the Baltimore Ravens 17-10. It started with a safety on a blocked punt. The next drive resulted in a field goal so the Steelers were just two points behind. The final seven minutes of the game were simply bizarre.

The Ravens punted again but this time the Steelers muffed the return, setting up Baltimore at the Steelers 7-yard line. Lamar Jackson inexplicably threw an interception. The Steelers edged towards field goal territory when Kenny Pickett unleashed his best pass of the day, 41 yards to George Pickens, for a touchdown. It surprised everyone in the stadium and it also gave Lamar the ball back with 1:17 to go. He fumbled, and the ball was recovered by TJ Watt. Surely it was game over?

Even then, Pittsburgh seemingly didn’t want the win. They knelt twice, forcing the Ravens to use timeouts, and were going to kneel a third time. But on the play, there was an illegal procedure so it brought up 4th down after running just 13 seconds off the clock and going backwards 6 yards. They kicked an FG but that still left Lamar with one last chance of redemption… until a Watt sack on 4th down ended the game. Somehow, Pittsburgh improved to 3-2.

Surely the Steelers won’t win the division playing like this? They are, however, consistent in that they know the limitations of their offence and play behind a big play defence that has 11 turnovers through five games. The rest of the division needs to sort out their Jekyll and Hyde play because as always, Mike Tomlin will get the Steelers to at least .500 by hook or by crook. [SB]

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Rookies of the Week – Week 2

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Another week in the books, and boy am I glad I extended this from three rookies to seven! These guys are setting records every week.

Let’s look at my standout seven from Week 2.

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Sam LaPorta, Tight End – Detroit Lions

It’s a position with one of the hardest jumps from college to professional; however, no one told LaPorta as he set an NFL record last weekend. With his five receptions for 63 yards, Sam is now the first tight end in NFL history to have five or more receptions in the first two games of their career.


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Marvin Mims Jr., Wide Receiver – Denver Broncos

Two catches were all it took for Mims Jr. to appear on this list. In the first half of the Broncos game against the Commanders, Mims had two targets, two receptions, 113 yards, and a touchdown. Unfortunately, though, he was unable to add to that as he wasn’t targeted again for the rest of the game.


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Puka Nacua, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles Rams

In Week 2, Nacua continued to make waves as he hauled in 15 catches for 147 yards. He has now set the record for most receptions for a single game by a rookie, as well as the record for most receptions by a rookie through their first two weeks with 25.


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Ivan Pace Jr., Linebacker – Minnesota Vikings

Could the Vikings have found one of the steals of the draft? After an impressive start to his career, Pace was given the starting job this week, and he repaid his coaches with seven tackles and one sack. Amazingly, he also has the highest pass rush grade among all linebackers.


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Bijan Robinson, Running Back – Atlanta Falcons

A second week in a row for Bijan on this list, and if he continues to play the way he’s started, he might not leave. Robinson had 124 yards of rushing against the Packers, with the highlight being a 19-yard run early in the second quarter featuring a surplus of missed tackles.


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John Michael Schmitz Jr., Center – New York Giants

After a tough start to the season, Schmitz bounced back immediately with a dominant performance, helping the Giants in their comeback win against the Arizona Cardinals. Schmitz played all 68 snaps in the game, allowing only one sack and posting positive grades in both run blocking and pass blocking.


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C.J. Stroud, Quarterback – Houston Texans

The Texans might be 0-2 to start the season, but that’s no fault of the young rookie. It was an outstanding performance against the Colts, as Stroud threw for 384 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He is currently the fourth-highest quarterback in passing yards with 626, despite being the most sacked quarterback across the first two weeks.

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Rookies of the Week – Week 1

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The return of the NFL season really had everything. Shock results, devastating injuries, struggling superstars, and outstanding rookies.

Let’s look at my standout seven from Week 1.

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Will Anderson Jr, Edge – Houston Texans

Emotions may have gotten the better of Anderson pre-game, but he was zoned in as soon as he stepped on the field to start his NFL career. The versatile rusher, who lined up predominantly on the left side, recorded four tackles, three hurries, two quarterback hits, and a sack against the normally elusive Lamar Jackson.


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Jalen Carter, Defensive Line – Philadelphia Eagles

Now that’s why he was touted as potentially going first overall! A 92.1 overall PFF grade puts Carter as the 2nd overall defensive tackle, and it’s not hard to see why. In a monstrous performance, Carter had eight pressures, one sack, and one assisted tackle. It’s no wonder that Mac Jones will be seeing him in his nightmares.


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Zay Flowers, Wide Receiver – Baltimore Ravens

Does Lamar Jackson have a new favourite weapon? Flowers continued his strong preseason with an outstanding showing against the Texans, and much like the later mentioned Bijan Robinson, he was making defenders miss all over the place. Nine catches on ten targets for 78 yards led the Ravens, while he also had two rushes for nine yards.


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Xavier Gipson, Wide Receiver – New York Jets

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of! No one saw the Jets game winner being an undrafted rookie free agent, but here we are. He forced his way into contention due to his electric preseason on special teams, which caught the eye of head coach Robert Salah. Now, thanks to his 65-yard walk-off punt return touchdown, he can now say he is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.


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Puka Nacua, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles Rams

If you were asked to predict the only rookie receiver to go over 100 yards this weekend, I can guarantee no one would have mentioned Puka Nacua. With Cooper Kupp now on IR, the Rams needed someone to step up, and their fifth-rounder did just that. 14 targets, 10 receptions, and 119 yards. Job done.


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Anthony Richardson, Quarterback – Indianapolis Colts

Richardson wasn’t perfect by any means, as he played conservatively and had an ugly interception, but he is now the proud owner of two NFL records. Against the Jaguars, Richardson not only became the youngest player ever with a passing and rushing touchdown in the same game, but he also became the first rookie in history to have at least 200 passing yards, 40 rushing yards, a passing touchdown, and a rushing touchdown.


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Bijan Robinson, Running Back – Atlanta Falcons

A shared snap count with Allgeier didn’t count against Bijan on Sunday, as he finished with 10 rushes for 56 yards while adding six receptions on six targets for 27 yards and a touchdown in the passing game. Add in five forced missed tackles, including that disgraceful stop-start on an attempted tackle from Frankie Luvu, and you’ve got yourself a debut.

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PICK SIX – Week 1

Welcome to our new series where two of the Full 10 Yards crew, Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler, pick six (see what we’ve done there?!) talking points from the previous week’s slate to highlight and dissect. And with Week 1 of the new season now in the books, let’s jump straight in!

Drop three, pick six

Well, wouldn’t you just know it? Our opening talking point from the first game of the season – the Thursday night curtain-raiser between the upstart Lions and the defending champion Chiefs – was inspired by a pick six from Lions rookie safety Brian Branch. I don’t want to do Detroit a disservice – it was a great play and the Lions deserved the W – but it soon became apparent that the Chiefs were missing TE Travis Kelce (knee injury), not least because of the offensive weapons it left Patrick Mahomes with.

Skyy Moore dropped two targets, rookie wideout Rashee Rice dropped one and even RB Jerick McKinnon joined the party, but the major culprit was Kadarius Toney, with three drops. The butter-fingered receiver’s worst miss was in the third quarter when the ball ricocheted off his hands to Branch, who ran it back for a 50-yard score to tie the game at 14-14. Later in the quarter, Toney dropped a third down pass, forcing Kansas City to settle for a field goal, and his final whoopsy, with 2:25 remaining and the Chiefs trailing by one, saw a slingshot come through his grasp and away. A catch would have set up a game-winning FG try.

After the 21-20 loss, Toney deleted his Twitter/X account to avoid the inevitable flak for his ‘zero net gain’ stat line (one catch for 1 receiving yard, one carry for -1 rushing yards). Despite his 29.7 PFF grade, the lowest given to a receiver since 2018, his QB still had his back. Mahomes said of Toney “I have trust that he is going to be the guy that I go to in those crucial moments.” Let’s see if that’s true next week. [ST]

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Bang, bang, bang for your buck

When we talk about players celebrating a hat-trick, the focus is usually centered on someone on the offensive side of the ball. The Atlanta Falcons, however, relied on a star performance from their marquee summer acquisition to spark them to a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Jessie Bates III, take a bow.

Fresh from an eye-popping four-year, $64 million deal in free agency, Bates wasted little time in starting to repay some of the faith his new team has placed upon him. He twice picked off rookie quarterback Bryce Young. 

The first was a classic interception from a safety. Watching the eyes of the quarterback and closing quickly on the ball, Bates beat former Falcon Hayden Hurst to the ball as he was crossing over the middle. It set the Falcons up in the red zone and four plays later, they had the lead. The second was almost a carbon copy. With a crossing route from the right-hand side of the Panthers formation, Bates again jumped the route beating Terrance Marshall to the ball. This time, it led to a field goal.

The trifecta was capped off on the next Panthers possession. Miles Sanders had seemingly ripped off a nice chunk of yardage only for Bates to punch the ball out and be credited with a forced fumble. The Falcons would recover and score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. One game, three turnovers and 17 points from those turnovers. Not a bad debut at all, sir! [SB]

**STOP PRESS** On Monday Night Football last night, the New York Jets went one better. Safety Jordan Whitehead played lights out, picking off the Bills’ Josh Allen THREE times as the Jets squeaked out a 22-16 OT win. What with that, a game-winning 65-yard punt return TD by rookie Xavier Gipson and Aaron Rodgers’ Achilles injury after just four plays, it’s a shame all five Hard Knocks episodes are now in the can.

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Tua and Tyreek rewrite records

Other than my own Bengals, the game that most intrigued me this week was the Dolphins vs the Chargers: two AFC teams with high hopes underpinned by notes of fragility and under-achievement. It turned out to be an absolute barnstormer, with Miami prevailing in a wild, come-from-behind 36-34 win, thanks in no small way to the lethal combo of Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill.

The Chargers played their part for sure but there’s no disgrace in coming up short against a Dolphins team intent on winning a shootout (their 16 explosive plays were the most by any team since 2014). In his first appearance since a Week 17 concussion, Tua silenced his doubters to the tune of 28 completions for 466 yards and 3 TDs. Two of those tuddies went to Hill – including a clutch game-winner with 1:45 left on the clock – as he amassed a staggering 215 yards from just 11 receptions. 

Rewriting the Super Bowl-era record books, Hill now has three games of 200+ yards and 2+ receiving TDs – a new NFL high – while Tua’s 466 yards were the most ever against the Chargers and the third-highest of any QB in Week 1. 

Ever-humble HC Mike McDaniel summed it all up afterwards by saying “That’s kind of what I expected to happen with the work that he (Tua) has done.” I feel “expected” may be a tad rich but Miami’s QB has certainly laid down a gauntlet to the rest of the league. [ST]

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Riddle me this

Welcome back Calvin Ridley! An almost-forgotten move due to its timing was the shrewd business the Jaguars pulled off by acquiring the former Falcons receiver. Fresh off his return from suspension following gambling misdemeanours, Ridley picked up right where he left off. 

He led the Jags in targets (11), receptions (8) and yards (101) along with a trip to pay dirt. It had been a whopping 686 days between regular season games for the receiver but he showed all of his class with some crisp route running and his elusiveness, tacking on plenty of yards after the catch.

The Jags as a whole stuttered to a win over what many presume will be a Colts team in rebuild mode. The offensive line had some issues and the run game was pedestrian at best. Maybe they should just let Trevor Lawrence air it out more? A great stat from Next Gen Stats summed it up perfectly: “Trevor Lawrence’s 18-yard TD pass to Zay Jones was one of three completions of 20+ air yards on the day. On passes over 10 air yards, Lawrence finished 8 of 11 for 147 yards and 2 TDs (+27.8% completion percentage over expected).”

Expect the Jags to get better as the season progresses. [SB]

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Dawgs unleashed

It has been a relatively quiet off season in Cleveland. After years of headline making for different reasons in years gone by, the Browns have fallen under the radar somewhat. In a division that has seen two star quarterbacks re-signed and resetting the market in the process, many tip Cleveland to occupy the AFC North cellar once again. Ja’Marr Chase may have lit the touchpaper ahead of kick-off with some ill-advised comments but Jim Schwartz and his unit served up a huge dose of humble pie to not just Chase, but to the entire Bengals offense.

The Browns brought the heat to Joe Burrow all day. The tone was set on the first play of the game with Za’Darius Smith getting his hands on the quarterback. The Browns would go on to record 10 QB hits and four tackles for loss, and were credited with two sacks. The second of those inevitably came from Myles Garrett who, along with his mates up front, had a field day against a sloppy Cincy offense.

Increased pressure up front was backed up by stellar play in the secondary. Tee Higgins was held to zero catches from eight targets. Their longest completed pass of the day went for just 12 yards to Chase, on the Bengals’ opening drive. That was on a third down play, and the Bengals would only complete one more third down from 14 attempts the rest of the way. Despite his fiery words, Chase couldn’t back it up and was held to a lacklustre 39 yards.

There is plenty for the Browns to sort out on offense but defensively, this was an unbelievably brilliant start to the campaign. [SB]

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Giants belittled by Cowboys D

At first glance, a 40-point win against the Giants in Sunday’s late game suggests that the Cowboys offense was cooking. Sure, Tony Pollard rushed well (82 yards, 2 TDs) but Dak Prescott completed just 13 of 24 passes for 143 yards and no TDs. So be in no doubt, the 40-0 drubbing of their divisional rivals was all about special teams and defense. Admittedly, Big Blue’s offense isn’t all that but take nothing away from Dallas DC Dan Quinn, who engineered the largest shutout win in franchise history.

His charges had Giants QB Daniel Jones under the cosh all night. They sacked him seven times, with Dorance Armstrong and Osa Odighizuwa bagging two each. Micah Parsons also got one to stall New York’s opening drive and that set the tone for the rest of the evening, with seven different Dallas players also posting tackles for loss. Brian Daboll’s team also coughed up three turnovers, including a blocked FG returned 58 yards for six by CB Noah Igbinoghene. Dallas led the league with 33 takeaways last season and carried on in a similar vein, with DaRon Bland’s 22-yard interception return TD giving the Cowboys a 16-0 lead in the first quarter (even though their offense had completed just one drive). Even Stephon Gilmore got an interception in his first outing in Cowboys colours.

As Parsons said after the game, “I think we made the statement that I’ve been trying to make: we’re the best defense in the NFL.” It’s only Week 1 and there’s a long way to go but so far, we’ve seen nothing to suggest that he’s wrong. [ST]

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Week 14 and 15: Rookie Standouts

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Is it just me, or is the season getting better every week? This week had it all: high-stakes drama, questionable refereeing, the biggest comeback win in NFL history, and possibly the most mind-blowing finish to a game this season. Since I missed last week’s entry, here are three rookies that stood out in weeks 14 and 15.

Week 14 

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Brock Purdy, Quarterback – San Francisco 49ers

Purdy looked confident in the pocket as he finished 16 of 21 for 185 yards and two touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 134.0, all of this while starting opposite the greatest of all time.

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Travon Walker, Edge – Jacksonville Jaguars

The number one pick in the draft finally regained that swagger as he ended his five-week sack drought with a dominant performance. Finishing with two hurries, one sack, and one fumble, he recorded a 91.6 PFF pass rush rating.

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Isiah Pacheco, Running Back – Kansas City Chiefs

After delivering solid rushing performances this season, Pacheco has started to become a threat in the passing game. Finishing the game with 93 all-purpose yards, he also forced five missed tackles with his aggressive running style.

Week 15 

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Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge – New York Giants

Thibodeaux bet the house on himself this week with a bold statement in the lead up to the Giants’ 20-12 win over the Washington Commanders. When asked if he liked prime time, the rookie responded with bravado and swagger: “Prime time like me.”

He backed up that quote straight away by stuffing two runs on the Commanders first possession before getting another on their second. Despite being shown on the sidelines getting oxygen, nothing was slowing him down. However, at the start of the 2nd quarter, he charged past Washington lineman Charles Leno Jr. to bat the ball out of Taylor Heinicke’s hands, pick up the fumble, and rumble in for his first career touchdown. Kayvon finished the day with 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown, and 12 tackles (9 solo).

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Tyler Allgeier, Running Back – Atlanta Falcons

This is probably an overdue appearance for the Falcons’ rookie running back. He’s quietly flown under the radar due to his split load with Cordale Patterson, but has made the most of his opportunities, picking up tough yards and first downs.

Despite a slow start this week, where he only had one carry in the first quarter, he quickly found his rhythm, and despite finishing on the losing side in the game against the New Orleans Saints, he managed to have a career day. Finishing with 139 yards from 17 carries, Allgeier tore up the Saints defence at a rate of 8.2 yards per carry, converting eight first downs and forcing six missed tackles, leading to 100 of his 139 yards coming after contact. He also converted a touchdown and a 2-point conversion. Allgeier now sits at 743 yards, only 280 yards behind the Falcons rookie rushing record set by William Andrews in 1979. 

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Jahan Dotson, Wide Receiver – Washington Commanders

In the last three weeks, Dotson has played the Giants twice either side of a well-deserved bye week, and on both occasions, the continued evolution of the chemistry between him and Taylor Heinicke has been in full flow, and as such, Dotson has been able to showcase his ability to make highlight reel catches.

The rookie out of Penn State eclipsed 100 yards for the first time in his career, with the majority of them coming after a 61-yard catch that almost sparked a late-game tying drive. With the Commanders backed up at their own 9-yard line, Heinicke uncorked a deep shot that Dotson managed to haul in despite impressive coverage by the Giants’ Jason Pinnock. Finishing the game with four receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown, Dotson took his touchdown total to six for the season, only two behind the Commanders rookie franchise record held by Charlie Brown.

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5 things to look out for in Week 5

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Aaron Rodgers’ Packers completing the London set, and a huge AFC North clash on SNF are standouts in an extra-long NFL Sunday

1. Green Bay Packers become 32nd team to play in London

Aaron Rodgers, Saquon Barkley, Aaron Jones, Rashan Gary, and Jaire Alexander are some of the superstar players on display as the Packers host the New York Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Giants QB Daniel Jones is set to start, after initial fears he’d be out for a while after suffering an ankle injury in Sunday’s win over the Bears.

This matchup will be the first ever London game to feature two teams with winning records.

2. Can the Miami Dolphins go 3-0 in the AFC East?

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Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins team has had an excellent start to the season, going 3-1 with the second toughest schedule so far in 2022.

They’re without their starting QB, Tua Tagovailoa, who suffered a concussion on TNF against the Bengals, just days after stumbling in the win against Buffalo, right now when exactly he’ll be back is unclear.

Their opponent, the New York Jets, had an impressive win over the Steelers on Sunday, Zach Wilson in particular inspired the win in the fourth quarter, another win will see both teams move to 3-2, a great start for New York.

3. 2-2 Falcons and Bucs fight for lead of NFC South

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Somehow both of these teams are 2-2, Arthur Smith’s Falcons have a knack of winning games they shouldn’t.

Tampa Bay has played the league’s toughest schedule through four weeks, losing to KC last week, although their offense did get going, scoring more than 20 points for the first time this season.

Atlanta will be without their two best offensive pieces in Kyle Pitts and Cordarelle Patterson.

4. Eagles looking to go 5-0 at Arizona

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The league’s only 4-0 team plays PFF’s 30th ranked defense in Sunday’s late window.

Arizona has looked awful these past few weeks, but sit 2-2 due to the individual brilliance of Kyler Murray, he’ll keep this one close.

Jalen Hurts has been a top 5 quarterback so far this season, the battle between him and Murray, two of the league’s most mobile QB’s should be thrilling.

5. Huge AFC North battle on SNF

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Cincinnati looks like a different team from the first two weeks of the year, the offensive line is protecting Burrow and the defense has stepped up.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has been lights out this season, but his defense has let him down in the fourth quarter twice.

They’re yet to win at home this season, suffering heartbreaking losses to Miami and Buffalo, whilst a loss for the Bengals will see them go 0-2 in the division.