The AFC North provided some wild football once again. Cleveland completed an unlikely comeback against Baltimore, one of the league’s best teams. Pittsburgh held on despite a late push by Green Bay. Cincinnati…well, we’ll get to them later. Elsewhere, several QBs were replaced, and a couple others returned. We’ll discuss a few of these. Backups continue to rack up victories, and the Niners are dangerous again. To add to the excitement, a record 6 games ended on FGs as time expired, and Damar Hamlin played defensive snaps! Let’s see what we can make of all this in my week 10 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Bears Win, Viewers Lose
If you watched this TNF matchup, I apologize. This was not particularly exciting football aside from a few moments that were few and far between. I don’t say that in reference to the low score; the defenses were good (especially new Chicago DE Montez Sweat with 8 pressures), but they weren’t responsible for the poor offenses. Those units floundered all on their own. On Carolina’s side, QB Bryce Young (21/38, 185 yards) continued to look lost, even though his protection was better than normal. The Panthers’ only end zone trip came on a 79-yard punt return TD by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who ironically is a former Bear.
Carolina’s special teams were their best performers. P Johnny Hekker punted 6 times, placing one perfectly at the 1. Even that part of the team wasn’t perfect though, as K Eddy Pineiro missed a (very diffcult) 59-yard FG that would have tied the game at 16. Chicago held on 16-13 despite offensive struggles of their own. Unlike Carolina, at least the Bears had a rushing attack. Someone please tell me why D’Onta Foreman (21/80/1) isn’t a regular starter at RB in this league? He produces wherever he ends up, including (in a bit more irony) in Carolina, where he led the team in rushing last year.
Bears QB Tyson Bagent (20/33, 162 yards) didn’t do a whole lot in his likely last start, as Justin Fields is expected back next week. The UDFA did outplay his #1 overall pick counterpart, earning his place in the NFL even if some of the shine has come off the last few weeks. Speaking of picks, this game was a win/lose for Chicago no matter what. Due to the Young trade, the Bears own Carolina’s first-round pick, which was #2 overall coming into the week (Chicago’s own was #3). One pick had to go up, and one had to drop. The way this game worked out, it’s Carolina’s pick that may be used on a new potential franchise QB.
Belichick Benches QB Mac Jones Before Final Drive in Loss
I’m growing convinced that Patriots HC Bill Belichick relishes the drama and consternation his QB shuffling attracts. We’ve seen Belichick pull Mac Jones in favor of Bailey Zappe multiple times now, but none have been quite like this. Down 10-6 in an atrocious Frankfurt game against the Colts, NE needed just one drive. After 60 yards, Jones threw an INT in the red zone, and it was an awful throw. Belichick was disgusted enough with the play that when the Colts got one last chance, he made a change. Needing a TD with 1:52 remaining, he inserted Zappe into the game to try and provide a spark.
Alas, he too made a terrible decision. With 36 seconds remaining, Zappe faked a spike before throwing into triple coverage. The pass was predictably intercepted, and the Patriots lost. I apologize to the international crowd for giving them this as the last overseas game of the year. Belichick said that he thought it was “time for a change“, and Jones admitted that his throw was terrible. The coach wouldn’t commit to a starter for the team’s next game, but isn’t the choice clear? Zappe is limited, and Jones was taken 15th overall. Start the latter and see if there’s anything salvageable before next year’s draft. Still, I doubt we’ve heard the last of this situation.
Niners Return from Bye with Everything Fixed; Jaguars Provide Clunker
Entering the bye on a 3-game losing streak, San Francisco had a lot riding on their heavyweight clash with the Jaguars. The team desperately needed to regain their momentum and re-establish themselves as one of the elites. I’d say that mission was accomplished with aplomb. QB Brock Purdy shook his turnover bug, completing 19 of 26 passes for 296 yards and 3 TDs despite constant pressure. The defense, now armed with Chase Young, earned 5 sacks and 4 turnovers. RB Christian McCaffrey (142 scrimmage yards) played great but saw his TD streak snapped in spite of the team’s best effort to get him one.
A 34-6 road drubbing was exactly what the doctor ordered for SF, but what happened to the Jaguars? QB Trevor Lawrence (17/29, 185 yards, 2 INTs, FUM lost) had a rough day at the office, while RB Travis Etienne (35 yards rushing) was shut down. As good as Jacksonville’s defense has been at creating turnovers, the offense has been equally as bad at avoiding their own. They lost the turnover battle 4-0, which is hard for any team to overcome. Against their 2 toughest opponents (KC and SF), Jacksonville has totaled 12 points scored. HC Doug Pederson needs to find out why, or else JAX will make the playoffs only to be dispatched.
Both of these teams maintain division leads, but one clearly feels better than the other. San Francisco is back on track, and the “sky is falling” narrative was premature. Jacksonville has a few tough games remaining, including 3 versus rugged AFC North teams. Success moving forward will require Lawrence to make better decisions. The defense must also generate more pressure without blitzing. If the line can’t get home, the secondary will be picked apart. This is still a really good team, but these issues are hard to fix during the season with the exception of Lawrence. As the franchise QB, he has to put the Jaguars on his back. So he goes, they go.
Kyler Murray Makes Season Debut 11 Months After ACL Tear
With a long and grueling rehab behind him, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray finally returned to the field and made his first start of 2023. I’d declare it a mixed bag with more good than bad. Keep in mind that he’s playing in a new offense now under a new staff. The best sign was that he showed no effects of the injury. Murray’s scrambling was back to normal, and he seemed to trust his knee when sprinting and making cuts. He ran for 33 yards and a score, but no run was more important than his evasive 13-yard scamper on the game-winning drive. A 33-yard heave to TE Trey McBride followed, setting up Matt Prater’s go-ahead FG.
Passing was a bit tougher (he went 19/32 for 248 yards and an INT), and Arizona struggled to win 25-23 over a Falcons team that couldn’t move the ball. The win still breaks a 6-game losing streak and feels good for both the QB and the organization. The rest of this season is solely about seeing if Murray is still their long-term guy under center. Every win makes it harder for ARI to draft his replacement, and every loss gives the team reason to move on. The Falcons are also likely to look toward the draft for a QB. Taylor Heinicke started again for Atlanta, going 8/15 for just 55 yards and 1 TD before leaving with a hamstring injury.
That brought the benched Desmond Ridder into the game. His 4/6 passing for 39 yards wasn’t flashy, though he ran for a score and looked better in the zone read game. His problem has always been turnovers, and in this game, it was a turnover on downs that cost the Falcons. Ridder ran a QB sneak on 4th and 1 at Arizona’s 21 and somehow didn’t gain an inch. You feel like Heinicke would’ve gotten the yard. Those lost points were the difference in the game, sending Atlanta to 3rd in the NFC South at 4-6. Heinicke seems like the better option even if Ridder is the young player here, but all signs point toward a new QB1 in 2024.
Bengals WR Boyd Drops Victory, Browns K Hopkins Redeems Himself
Two AFC North teams participated in thrilling games with drastically different results. A Bengals team without WR Tee Higgins should’ve been able to take the Texans. An opening-drive TD suggested they would. Then, Cincy went ice cold for the rest of the half, and the defense couldn’t stop anyone. Lucky to be down 20-7 (HOU stalled twice in the red zone), QB Joe Burrow made plays, both good and bad. He tossed 2 stellar TDs but also threw 2 INTs. One was a bit high, but TE Drew Sample seemed to be unable to jump even 6 inches. The other was an awful throw in the end zone.
The defense battled back, picking off CJ Stroud for the rookie’s 2nd INT of the season. However, with a chance to take the lead, WR Tyler Boyd dropped a well-thrown TD pass. The Bengals had to settle for a 27-27 tie. With 1:33 left, the defense collapsed again. Players got dragged by WR Noah Brown (7/172), setting up an easy 38-yard FG for Matt Ammendola (sorry Dare Ogunbowale, they got another kicker). These Texans have arrived, but this is more about Cincinnati. Making the playoffs will be MUCH harder without this win and tiebreaker, and the team must win at Baltimore to have any shot at retaining their AFC North crown.
Over in Baltimore, the Ravens smothered the Browns in the first half. Browns QB Deshaun Watson had another one of his awful starts, and Baltimore capitalized for a 17-point first quarter. However, as they have done many times this year, the Ravens got stuck in the mud, and Cleveland grew in confidence. Watson greatly improved, the defense stiffened, and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson threw 2 INTs. The latter was returned by Greg Newsome for a TD that should have tied the game at 31, but normally reliably K Dustin Hopkins missed the PAT. Cleveland wasn’t done though.
The Browns defense got another stop. With 4:55 remaining, Cleveland took the entire clock in 12 plays. Hopkins hit a 40-yard game-winning FG, redeeming himself for his earlier miss. That ending feels appropriate for a kicker who has been so good all season. Hopkins stabilized the position after the Browns whiffed on Cade York, becoming a real weapon. For Baltimore though, this is a head-scratcher. If something occurring 3 times makes a trend, then Baltimore has a trend of collapsing. They have held 4th-quarter leads in all 3 of their losses. As well as this team has played, they can’t be called contenders until they learn how to close.