Unbelievably, this week of NFL football was so wild that it threw us all even when we were expecting it. The Vikings, experts at one-score nail biters, served up a ridiculous finish once again. We had a matchup between Colt McCoy and John Wolford (I won’t be discussing that one to spare you all; just know that Arizona won 27-17 to drop the reigning champion Rams to 3-6). One team lost their game by a missed PAT (that one I will discuss). Packers’ rookie WR Christian Watson had more TDs on Sunday (3) than he had catches in any other game. And we had a starting QB that was supposed to be banished. Oh, and the Eagles lost. Yeah…this is going to be the longest article of the season. Let’s see what we can make of all this in my week 10 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Panthers’ Defense Reigns in Rain
The field in Charlotte was soaking wet and the rain fell the entire game, so we didn’t have the offensive fireworks that we saw the last time Atlanta and Carolina faced off two weeks ago. This time, we got more of a defensive battle, and one side fared much better than the other, with Carolina winning 25-15. The Panthers sacked QB Marcus Mariota 5 times and picked him off once. Carolina also ran the ball well, with D’Onta Foreman (31/130/1) looking like a star. The former 3rd rounder of the Texans has never averaged below 4.2 yards per carry in a season, but Houston dumped him after he tore his Achilles. In Carolina, he looks rejuvenated. Since Christian McCaffrey was traded, he has been the feature back despite the presence of Chuba Hubbard. He is elusive for his size but is also a load to take down, running through contact with his violent style.
PJ Walker (10/16, 108 yards) played uninspiring football. I counted at least three instances where the Falcons should have intercepted him. One of those was an ugly end zone throw that an offensive lineman could’ve caught. This game would’ve been a blowout if Carolina possessed a functional passing game. At some point, I expect the Panthers to take a good look at Sam Darnold. We know what Walker is at this point: a replacement-level passer who was a guaranteed cut had rookie Matt Corral not suffered a preseason Lisfranc injury. Darnold is a player with #3 overall pedigree who is making nearly $19M this year. After trading for him a season ago, Carolina needs to see whether he’s worth keeping around now that he is without QB killer Matt Rhule.
In Atlanta’s case, you have to wonder whether coach Arthur Smith should give rookie QB Desmond Ridder a shot. Mariota (19/30 for 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) is making plays with his legs, but he’s honestly been one of the worst throwers of the football in the NFL this year. His decision making leaves much to be desired, and he doesn’t take advantage of his playmakers. Drake London and Kyle Pitts should be making him look good, but he barely utilizes them. When he does target them, his inaccuracy stifles the offense. Smith seems to want to take the ball out of Mariota’s hands as much as he can. Do you blame him? However, without a viable QB, the Falcons are merely pretenders. Ridder may not be the answer either, but the team should see what he is before checking out next year’s better QB crop.
Buccaneers Would Love to Play Every Game in Germany
I couldn’t go without discussing the NFL’s first game in Munich! As a reminder, I promised not to discuss the TB offense until I saw improvement. That could have actually posed a conflict here, but I’m happy to report that they did indeed look a lot better. Not perfect, but better. Tampa turned the ball over twice, but one will never happen again. I think the Philly Special is going to be permanently removed from the playbook. Aside from one throw that was undercut, Brady looked crisp, throwing for 258 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT on 22/29 passing. The offensive line FINALLY gave him time to throw, and it showed.
Another side effect of the improved o-line play was the fact that the rushing attack took off. Both of Tampa’s RBs averaged more than 4 yards per carry. Third-round rookie Rachaad White (22/105) got the majority of the carries, and he definitely had fresh legs. Leonard Fournette (14/57/1) was still involved beyond his ill-fated pass attempt. However, neither back was involved in the pass game (1 catch for 1 yard total). That’s it for the offense though, because the most encouraging sign for TB was the return to form shown by their defense. This unit had gotten tired from extended snaps, but the offense let them rest for once.
Seahawks QB Geno Smith continued his good play, going 23/33 for 275 yards and 2 TDs. However, rookie phenom Kenneth Walker (10 carries for 17 yards) was completely shut down on the ground, though he did contribute 55 receiving yards. Bucs LB Devin White was a monster, with 9 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 QB hits. S Antoine Winfield Jr.’s return was especially helpful, as the back end mostly clamped down on Seattle’s receivers. This was a 21-3 game in the 4th quarter until Seattle scored a couple of late TDs to make it interesting. Tampa was in control the whole game and won 21-16. They can now enjoy their ride home from Germany as a .500 team! The NFL will be back here, and Brady approves.
Jeff Saturday Surprises By Starting Matt Ryan at QB
I was curious about whether Saturday would revert former coach Frank Reich’s decision to bench Matty Ice for the season. When he said at a press conference that Ehlinger would remain the QB, I figured I had my answer. Wrong. Ryan came out of the tunnel and stretched with the starters, and sure enough, he started and played the whole game against Las Vegas. The Colts’ offense was the best it has looked since Ryan was initially replaced. It still wasn’t a well-oiled machine, but at this point all Indy fans were asking for was basic competence, and they cleared that bar nicely.
We didn’t have an offensive explosion in the first half, but the Colts led throughout and took a 13-7 lead into the break. Honestly, it wasn’t a shootout at any part of the game. Neither team scored more than 7 in any one quarter, but the Colts won 25-20 regardless. The process with which they won was most encouraging to me. New play caller Parks Frazier finally realized that last year’s leading rusher is on the team, and Jonathan Taylor was fed throughout. He had 22 carries for 147 yards and a TD in his best showing since week 1. The run threat allowed Indy’s beleaguered offensive line to keep the Raider pass rush at bay.
Ryan responded with an efficient day, going 21/28 for 222 yards and a TD while adding a rushing TD on a QB sneak. He committed 0 turnovers and crucially was only sacked once. Ryan even provided a career-long 39-yard scramble! Sure, they were playing an equally disappointing opponent. That underwhelming team still has Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones rushing the passer. Though it’s just one week, the new operation in Indianapolis seems like it’s working much better with the players’ strengths. Saturday is a rather unconventional hire, but he’s off to a 1-0 start. It will take a lot more to beat the Eagles next week.
Justin Fields is Great…As an RB
You’re probably hearing a lot about Justin Fields recently. I imagine that it’s almost exclusively positive, with people suggesting that he’s suddenly the best QB from the 2021 class and that he’s a budding star. First, that class is looking pretty awful right now, so that wouldn’t be saying much. Second and more importantly, I think he’s being evaluated at the wrong position. He hasn’t shown me anything really as a passer, but his running ability is definitely special. In the last two games, he has run for 178 and 147 yards with 3 total rushing TDs. This is surely controversial, but I wonder about using Fields as an RB.
As a thrower of the football, Fields is still a mess. He’s been better over the pass three weeks, but he still hasn’t thrown for more than 208 yards in a game, and he’s only crossed the 200-yard threshold once. He has 12 passing TDs and 7 INTs while taking 36 sacks. His completion percentage sits at about 59%. That’s not going to get the job done. Fields is still a young player, but the inaccuracy and decision making problems we’ve seen are the same ones we saw at Ohio State. This week, he threw a horrible pick six that should never have been attempted, letting Detroit back into the game. He didn’t lose the game on his own (Cairo Santos missed a PAT in a 31-30 game), but he didn’t help.
One may argue that his running ability was the only reason the Bears were in the game at all. I would partially agree while stating that this only proves my point. Fields is dangerous as a runner. He is big and tough to tackle, but he’s also very fast and elusive. I could easily picture him in a Taysom Hill type of role, playing as a wildcat QB while mostly running when he touches the ball. Let him throw a few times to keep defenses honest, but it’s clear what he does best. Bears OC Luke Getsy limits Fields’ pass attempts whenever possible, and he runs him as much as he can (Fields now has 749 rushing yards). Though the team says they’re easing his development process as a QB, it’s more likely that they know the truth: Fields is a runner, not a passer.
Vikings Give Fans Heart Attacks But Survive Thriller vs. Bills
It must be exhilarating to be a Vikings fan right now. Seemingly every one of their games comes down to the wire, and this one was no different. Even by their standards though, this week’s game was insane. Minnesota started well, forcing a 3 and out and following with an opening-drive TD of their own. The score was a 22-yard catch by Justin Jefferson, who you could tell was primed for a major outing. The Vikings stalled out from there, punting and throwing an INT while allowing two straight TDs to Buffalo. This game was mostly controlled by Buffalo, who led 27-10 with 2 minutes to go in the third.
Vikings RB Dalvin Cook scored an 81-yard TD on the very next play from scrimmage, giving Minnesota life. Buffalo drove to the Minnesota 7, but threw an INT on 4th down. Kirk Cousins led another TD drive, but Greg Joseph missed the PAT, keeping the score at 27-23. After a three and out by Buffalo, the Vikings struggled, facing a 4th and 18 at their own 27. They had to go for it. Cousins fired a 32-yard heave to Jefferson, who climbed the ladder and came down with a 1-handed snag to keep the game going. At the goal line, Jefferson caught a ball that was ruled a TD, but replay showed that he was stopped at the half yard line. Dalvin Cook dropped a TD on 4th and goal, but an offside penalty give Minnesota one last shot.
Cousins tried a QB sneak but came up short. The officials say that he was stopped at the 1 inch line. He was probably across the goal line, but no replay angle could conclusively show it. All Buffalo had to do was kneel forward a couple of times. Somehow, Buffalo botched the snap, and Minnesota recovered in the end zone to take a 30-27 lead. I should note here that the missed PAT eliminated the FG option on the last drive and also kept the new score at a field goal difference. Josh Allen responded well, leading a 5-play, 69-yard FG drive in just 39 seconds, tying the game and sending it to OT. Minnesota countered with a long FG drive in the extra period, but Buffalo would get the ball.
Allen lead the Bills to the Vikings’ 20 in 5 plays. With the field goal in hand, Buffalo decided to try to take a few end zone shots. On the very first throw, CB Patrick Peterson picked Allen off in the end zone, handing the Vikings a stunning 33-30 upset. Justin Jefferson was a monster, with 10 catches for 193 yards and a TD. He carried his team on a day when Cousins (2 INTs, 4 sacks) wasn’t at his best. Minnesota proved that this team is for real, and they have a 4.5-game NFC North lead to show for it. Buffalo will rue their miscues, particularly Allen’s final two turnovers, as they’ve now lost 2 straight and are tied for 2nd in the AFC East (red-hot Miami now leads). They can take their frustrations out on Cleveland next week.
Packers Come Back Against Cowboys, Save Their Season
Writing good things about both Tampa Bay and Green Bay on offense in one week? Amazingly, yes I am. The Packers came into this game against old coach Mike McCarthy with a completely different game plan. As if realizing that Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are really good running backs, the Packers ran the pair 37 times for 203 yards. In contrast, Aaron Rodgers only attempted 20 passes in a game that went to OT. It worked well, keeping the team in the game early with a 14-14 halftime score. The defense did its part, intercepting Dak Prescott twice in the first half.
Dallas rebounded with 2 touchdown drives in the third quarter, and it looked like the Cowboys were pulling away at 28-14. Rodgers then took over. His new friend, 2nd-round WR Christian Watson, was his partner in crime. Watson dealt with injuries for much of the season, but he looked great in this one. He caught 4 passes for 107 yards and 3 TDs, including both of Green Bay’s second-half scores. His 4.36 40-yard dash time was evident as he blew by cornerbacks, and his 6’5″ frame gives him a good catch radius. GB forced OT, and when Dallas bypassed a 53-yard FG attempt and failed to convert on 4th down, Rodgers hit Allen Lazard for a big completion to set up the game-winning field goal.
Green Bay couldn’t afford to fall to 3-7. Had they done so, they’re be staring at a ceiling of 10-7 with games against the Titans, Vikings, Eagles, and Dolphins remaining. As is, they’re 4.5 games back in the division but are in the mix for a wild card. We’ll see if this offensive performance is a fluke or if they’ve finally unlocked something. Dallas on the other hand made too many mistakes to win this game. Turnovers, penalties, and that bad decision in OT doomed them. That said, maybe they’ll be better for it come playoff time. You’d much rather face adversity and come up short in the regular season. They might make improved decisions and earn a better result the next time a situation like this presents itself.
Last Undefeated Team Falls Unexpectedly
I knew Philly would fall at some point, but I admittedly didn’t give the Commanders a shot to be the ones to take them down. Whenever a team takes a halftime lead over the Eagles, they’re in good position to earn a win because the Eagles simply aren’t a good second-half team. They do most of their damage in the second quarter. I also mentioned last week that Philadelphia cannot stop the run without DT Jordan Davis. Washington’s rushing average wasn’t great due to their poor offensive line, but they clearly knew the script, running the ball a whopping 49 times. Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson continuously ran through contract, churning yardage and dominating the time of possession battle 40:24-19:36.
The Eagles played a sloppy game. Jalen Hurts threw an interception on a deep ball, and both Dallas Goedert and Quez Watkins lost fumbles. The Goedert play was aided by the officials missing a facemask on Washington, but Watkins simply got stripped of the ball. The interception keyed a 13-0 second-quarter shutout by the Commanders, owning the Eagles in their own quarter to take a 20-14 halftime lead. Kicker Joey Slye was money all night, going 4/4 on FGs including a pair from 55 and 58 yards. QB Taylor Heinicke wasn’t great as usual, but he was competent aside from one ugly INT. He honestly outplayed hurts. Terry McLaurin was typically fantastic, catching 8 passes for 128 yards to lead all WRs.
In the 4th quarter, Washington held a 26-21 lead and Philadelphia got a chance to win with 3 and a half to go. They couldn’t sustain their drive, and they punted back to Washington with 1:54 remaining. All the Commanders needed to do was run 3 times and pick up a first down. To their credit, the Eagles’ defense stepped up, forcing a 3rd and 7. Then they made perhaps the most boneheaded play of the season. Heinicke dropped back to pass, but it was clear that he wasn’t throwing the ball unless he had an easy window. To keep the clock running, Heinicke took a knee for a 12-yard sack. The Eagles had their stop. Except LB Brandon Graham clocked Heinicke egregiously late and gifted Washington a first down by penalty.
The Eagles had one last timeout, but the game was effectively over. Washington punted the ball to Philly with 5 seconds left, and Nick Sirianni dialed up a classic lateral play. DeVonta Smith’s lateral was scooped up by Casey Toohill of Washington who walked a few yards for a free TD. The Commanders finished off a 32-21 upset. Dallas’ loss gave Philly a chance to extend their advantage, but now the NFC East is more clumped. All four teams are .500 or better, setting up a fascinating stretch run. The Eagles are still in good shape, but they’re really not a Super Bowl team. Washington has a QB decision to make with Carson Wentz coming back soon. Wentz is clearly the better QB, but the team responds oddly well to Heinicke and wins with him. Ron Rivera has a tough choice on his hands.