Wow, we’re a third of the way through the regular season already. Doesn’t time fly when Travis Kelce is impressing Taylor Swift, the Browns are beating the Niners and Cooper Kupp is doing Cooper Kupp things again? Anyway, here are the thoughts of Shaun Blundell and Sean Tyler on these and some other talking points from the Week 6 slate.
Sweet 16 for Kelce and co.
A day after the premiere of her new concert movie, pop diva Taylor Swift returned to the corporate boxes at Arrowhead Stadium – resplendent in a Red Chiefs jacket – to watch her beau, tight end Travis Kelce, star in a 19-8 win over the Broncos. This was KC’s 16th successive victory against their AFC West rivals. The Last Time Denver won, in 2015, Peyton Manning led them to the Super Bowl.
Patrick Mahomes only threw one touchdown pass and also had an ugly red-zone INT, his fifth turnover of the season. Isiah Pacheco was a solid threat (62 rushing, 36 receiving), rookie Rashee Rice snagged four for 72 and Kadarius Toney reeled in the Chiefs’ only TD. Harrison Butker also took some of the limelight, hitting four FGs including a 60-yarder.
But once again, it was very much the Travis Kelce show. His bad ankle was heavily strapped but he was able to Shake It Off, hauling in all nine of his targets for 124 yards. Exploiting Denver’s zone coverage, he personally outgained his opponents 109-94 in the first half on the way to his 36th 100-yard game (extending his own NFL record) and his sixth against the Broncos. He’s a bit of an Anti-Hero at times but you can’t deny that he is The Man.
We mustn’t forget that the Kansas City defense also played their part. They held Denver to 197 total yards and restricted Russell Wilson to 13 completions, with two interceptions and five sacks. Courtland Sutton (46) was the only Denver receiver with more than 16 receiving yards as Sean Payton was six minutes away from his first career shut-out. Yet somehow, trailing 16-0 in the fourth, Denver made it a one-score game when Sutton caught an 11-yard TD pass with some Style.
Remember, their lacklustre opponents shipped 70 points a fortnight ago so the Chiefs do need to improve offensively. Their inability to turn red-zone trips into touchdowns nearly cost them but luckily, you don’t have to be that good to beat Denver at the moment. And it helps if you have a Travis Kelce on your roster. The Mastermind behind it all, HC Andy Reid, also had an off-night, opting to kick or fake punt on short fourth downs when the Mahomes–Kelce connection was obviously humming.
Still, good teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing at their best and that seems to be the case with KC. This was their second sub-20 score of the season but they still covered the 10.5-point spread (just), progressed to 5-1 and tightened their grip on the top seed in the AFC. Based on recent history, we know All Too Well how this story ends. [ST]
Browns solve the Brock Purdy conundrum
The Browns needed a brilliant defensive display on Sunday to stand any chance of beating the San Francisco 49ers heading into the weekend. They got it – and then some – in grinding out a 19-17 victory. The Browns defense has started the year like a juggernaut and after the latest win, they became the stingiest unit through five weeks in over 50 years, giving up 1,002 total yards in that span.
Niners QB Brock Purdy was harassed all day. He seemingly looked out of rhythm throughout as the Browns pass rush consistently applied pressure. The box score will only say three sacks but there were a further six QB hits and five tackles for loss recorded. Special credit goes to defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson who was seemingly deeper in the backfield than the 49ers running backs for most of the afternoon.
Purdy completed just 44% of his passes for a mere 125 yards and threw his first interception of the season for good measure. It’s the lowest output for a Kyle Shanahan-led San Francisco team – that’s how special this Browns defensive performance was – after the Niners scored 42 against Dallas and put up 30-plus points in every game this campaign.
A lot will be made about Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel leaving the contest through injury. CMC had already scored his now-compulsory touchdown on the opening drive when he bagged 45 total yards. His final stat line read 11 carries for 43 yards so yes, he logged eight more carries for -2 yards after the opening drive. He left the game late in the third quarter.
Yes, Deebo was a big miss too but before we make too many excuses for the 49ers, let’s not forget about what the Browns were dealing with. No Deshaun Watson. No Nick Chubb. No Jack Conklin. And for the first time in his career, no Joel Bitonio. The deck was stacked against Cleveland but they had just enough from stand-in QB PJ Walker and company on offense to keep the game close. Walker was only sacked twice the whole day, Amari Cooper reeled in four grabs for 108 yards and the committee approach on the ground yielded 160 rushing yards. So if the Browns offense can get healthy, they have the luxury of playing with the best defense in football. [SB]
Gang Green scalp the last of the unbeatens
After the Niners’ loss, we were left with just one undefeated team – the 5-0 Eagles – but by the end of Sunday night, the last 100% record in the NFL had also come crashing down. But Philly’s 20-14 defeat wasn’t just their first loss of the campaign; it was also their first loss to the Jets ever.
Despite their unblemished record, Philly haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season but have still found a way to win every week. But not this time. There were too many mistakes offensively and the Jets D came to play. They held the Eagles’ run game in check (Kenneth Gainwell posted just 13 rushing yards and D’Andre Swift ran for 18) and also restricted Jalen Hurts to 28 of 45 for 280 yards, one rushing TD and one TD pass. In playing Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and now Hurts, the 3-3 Jets have allowed three TD passes but had eight interceptions. Hats off to HC Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
The one bright spot for the Eagles’ attack was AJ Brown, who made hay without corners Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed patrolling the New York backfield. His seven catches for 131 yards means he’s posted four consecutive 120-yard games, which makes you wonder why he only got three targets after halftime. In fact, the whole Eagles team seemed to switch off in the second half, having led 14-9 at the break. Their fruitless second-half drives ended punt, punt, interception, missed FG, interception and turnover on downs, and only one went further than 35 yards.
While much of Jalen Hurts’ troubles came through Haason Reddick (two sacks, two tackles for loss) and Bryce Huff (1.5 sacks, nine QB pressures), it was those three interceptions from Quinnen Williams, Bryce Hall and Tony Adams that proved decisive. CJ Mosley also picked up a fumble by Swift. In being handed the ball back four times, New York scored 11 points. That defined the result in a game where Philly outgained their opponents by 100 yards, allowed fewer sacks, gave away fewer penalties and were much more efficient on third down. And other than a Breece Hall rushing TD and Randall Cobb two-point conversion, the only points they gave up came from Greg Zuerlien’s boot.
But for all that, it was the giveaways that killed the Eagles. If they’re going to keep their lofty perch at the top of the NFC, they’ll have to iron out such flaws from their game. Next week’s opponents, Miami, will really make them pay if they don’t. [ST]
Jags pass the London test
The Jacksonville Jaguars are effectively known as “London’s team” because of their long-standing commitment to playing games in the UK. The International Series will go down as a roaring success once more with great ticket sales and viewership – the two things the league will care about. The big question this season was how would an NFL team respond to playing back-to-back games overseas without a bye week to come home to?
The Jags completed their London double-header last week by taking down the Bills. But this week was probably the bigger test: how would Jacksonville respond when they returned across the Atlantic? A defensive takeaway and two offensive touchdowns in the opening four series has to go down as a pretty good start. With just over three minutes to go in the third quarter, the score was Jacksonville 31, Indianapolis 6. Game, set and match.
The Jaguars forced four turnovers on the day, including picking off Gardner Minshew three times and forcing a fumble against their old QB to boot. The 37-20 win was powered by defense and special teams, with 17 points coming from those turnovers (20 if you want to include the additional three via a turnover on downs late in the game). The Jags made Indy abandon the running game, which had led to their success against the Titans a week ago. The combination of Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor were limited to a measly 40 yards on a combined 15 carries.
Jacksonville looked sluggish out of the gates this season but the London trip was described three weeks ago by Doug Pederson as “hitting us at the right time”. His analysis certainly seems spot on. [SB]
Can the backups step up?
This season, we’ve already seen a few QB injuries. Aaron Rodgers ruptured his Achilles four plays into the season, Joe Burrow has been struggling with a gammy calf, Deshaun Watson hasn’t suited up for the Browns in a couple of weeks and the Colts are currently riding with Gardner Minshew while Anthony Richardson contemplates season-ending surgery on his shoulder. And on Sunday, two more gunslingers went down, making their respective teams’ seasons all the more challenging.
According to most pre-season pundits, the Las Vegas Raiders (now 3-3) were never going to tear up any trees this year but if they are without Jimmy Garoppolo for any length of time, their campaign will be even tougher sledding than expected. Jimmy G left the Raiders’ game with the Patriots in the first half after suffering a back injury, and was eventually taken to a local hospital for further tests. That left journeyman backup Brian Hoyer to pick up the pieces with the score at 13-3. Despite only throwing 6 of 10 for 102 yards and no TDs, at least he didn’t give away the ball, and eventually steered his team to a 21-17 victory.
For all his limitations, at least we’ve all heard of Hoyer. When Chicago’s Justin Fields left Sunday’s game with Minnesota with a dislocated thumb after a Danielle Hunter sack, in stepped Tyson Bagent. Have you heard of him? Nope, me neither. The undrafted rookie immediately gave away a sack fumble that Jordan Hicks returned for a pick six. He did score a 1-yard rushing TD in the fourth to make it a one-score game but the newbie was picked off later, as the Bears slumped to a 19-13 loss.
Fields’ season so far has been a bit of a rollercoaster. After two great games against Denver and Washington, Bad Justin reappeared. Before his third-quarter injury, he was just 6 of 10 for 58 yards and an INT. Whether Bagent takes the reins in Chicago for an extended period of time depends on the results of an MRI but given the level of inconsistency at the position, this 1-5 team should be looking to draft a quarterback next year anyway. If the Bears select a Caleb Williams or a Drake Maye, it will push Bagent back down the pecking order (if they keep him at all) so what more motivation does he need to put some film together while he has the chance?
Next week, the Raiders and Bears face off at Soldier Field so with both teams potentially forced to employ stand-in QBs, each may feel that it’s the perfect time to play the other. [ST]
Cream of the Kupp
Puka Nacua rightly made all the headlines in the opening weeks of the Rams’ season. Cooper Kupp, however, showed exactly why he has been the league’s leading receiver in recent years with a brilliant display in the LA Rams’ 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Kupp was the star turn in a performance that saw Los Angeles rack up 23 unanswered points, fighting back to an even .500 record while dropping their divisional foes to 1-5.
The biggest play of the day for Kupp sprung the Rams into life after a pretty anaemic first half. With no timeouts remaining and the length of the field ahead of them, Matthew Stafford dropped a dime right into the bucket of his star man for 49 yards. This allowed LA to kick a field goal to close out the half. It was nothing more than a simple go route where Kupp accelerated past the coverage and bizarrely, the Cardinals did not have any help over the top.
On the first possession of the second half, the Rams put together a scoring drive covering 10 plays, culminating in Kupp’s first receiving touchdown of the campaign. Again, it was Kei’Trel Clark who was beaten in coverage as Stafford found Kupp at the right pylon. The Rams never looked back. Kupp finished the day with seven catches for 148 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, making up over 65% of the Rams’ total passing attack on the day.
It was a second half in particular where the Rams leaned heavily on the run so special praise should also be heaped on Kyren Williams who had himself a career day (20 carries, 158 rushing yards and a TD). With that said, when the chips were down, it was always Kupp who had his number called. With a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, the Rams faced 2nd-and-17. Two passing plays later, we’d seen two Cooper Kupp receptions and 29 yards gained. He is Mr Reliable and it’s safe to say the main man is back in town. [SB]