Some weird things happened this week, as they do every week. Falcons RB Bijan Robinson got 1 touch because he was “just not feeling so great.” Broncos S Kareem Jackson got ejected for headhunting; it’s his second ejection of the year and will likely lead to his 5th fine (and a 4-game suspension). New England won a game, and Detroit looked completely helpless. Nobody saw any of these things coming (except for maybe Jackson), but that’s what we love about the NFL right? I’ll simply continue to do my best covering the wackiness in all its glory. Here are my week 7 takeaways for the 2023 NFL season!
TNF: Jaguars Stave Off Furious Saints Comeback
Jacksonville looked like they had this game well in hand. That alone was interesting because they were losing the turnover battle 2-0. WR Christian Kirk lost a fumble, and a punt return was “muffed” off a blocker’s back. That was all just in the first quarter! However, New Orleans simply could not take advantage. Last week, the Saints stalled in the red zone every time and kicked field goals; this game seemed to be trending in the same direction. Their first four red zone drives ended in a missed FG and 3 made FGs. Meanwhile, the Jaguars scored TDs on their first two drives that didn’t end in fumbles.
With the score 17-6 in the 3rd quarter, the wheels almost came off for NO. QB Derek Carr saw a pass batted in the air and picked off; LB Foyesade Oluokun (who also had a game-high 14 tackles), returned it 24 yards for a TD. Offensively for Jacksonville, Trevor Lawrence, who was a game-time decision with a knee injury, showed no signs of pain. He actually led the team with 59 rushing yards and looked good when scrambling. Through the air, the Jags were a bit stagnant, with 204 passing yards and a TD. That surprised me given the lack of pressure from the Saints’ defensive line.
New Orleans finally drove down the field and got a TD (after getting stuffed on their first 3 downs at the goal line). After Jacksonville failed a 4th and 1 (no QB sneak was called, likely due to Lawrence’s knee), NO struck again to tie the game at 24, finally resembling the offense we expected this season. Needing an answer, Lawrence hit Kirk (6/90/1) for a short pass, which the speedster took 44 yards to the end zone. The Saints drove to the Jacksonville 6 with time winding down, but they threw 4 straight incompletions. The worst was a 3rd-down strike to TE Foster Moreau, who simply dropped it. Jacksonville would win 31-24.
Carr (33/55, 301 yards, TD, INT) has battled behind suspect protection and an AC sprain, but he hasn’t provided the lift the team thought it was getting. He has been far from the only problem though. The offensive line has also stymied the running game, making the team 1-dimensional at times. After a 2-0 start, New Orleans is now 3-4 and falling behind in the surprisingly competitive NFC South. I do expect Tampa to come back to Earth though, and Atlanta has already done so. Jacksonville is cruising in the AFC South, and a repeat division title looks highly likely.
Myles Garrett, Refs Will Browns to Win; Refs also Aid Steelers/Eagles
One thing that wasn’t a surprise this week was officials influencing games far more than they should. The first was the Browns-Colts game, a wild affair featuring 8 lead changes. Browns QB Deshaun Watson returned, threw an INT, and left again. Down 38-33 with 2:35 remaining, it was up to PJ Walker. He had help from some striped friends. At Indy’s 13, Walker was strip sacked, but a questionable illegal contact call on CB Darrell Baker negated it. The next play, Baker was flagged again for PI, but the ball was 10 yards out of bounds! That put the ball at the 1, and Walker threw 3 incompletions before RB Kareem Hunt ran for the game-winning score on 4th down.
The refs earn credit for the win, but Browns DE Myles Garrett also deserves plenty. He was a terror the entire game. Garrett strip sacked Gardner Minshew twice, and Cleveland recovered both; one was returned by LB Tony Fields for a TD. Aside: Minshew played well for the most part, but 3 lost fumbles and 4 turnovers for the second consecutive week?? That needs to stop. Anyway, Garrett continued dominating with 9 tackles, and he swatted won a pass. Most impressively, he blocked a field goal by jumping over the center untouched. Any contact would have led to a penalty, but this big man is ridiculously athletic. On a day when the #1 defense largely struggled, its best player shined.
In the afternoon, the Steelers and Rams traded blows until Pittsburgh had a 24-17 lead. Needing a stop to get the ball back, LA forced a 4th and 1 with 2:24 remaining. Pittsburgh decided to go for it since LA was out of timeouts; thus, a first down would end the game. QB Kenny Pickett ran a “tush push” and got the first down. Except he didn’t. DE Jonah Williams tackled him short, but the refs gave it to him. The Rams blew this game, and there’s no guarantee that they would have come back to tie the score or win. This contrasts with Cleveland’s scenario, where the Colts could have kneeled. Still, LA was denied the chance to try.
During Sunday night football, the Eagles got home cooking like few I’ve ever seen. The officials called 10 penalties on Miami, yet they threw ZERO flags on Philadelphia. No team is completely flawless from a penalty standpoint, and Philly wasn’t either. One of the worst offenses was an incomplete pass on 4th down in the red zone, where WR Cedric Wilson had his facemask tugged. The Dolphins were irate when no flag was thrown. Miami got karma on the next play, as CB Kader Kohou tipped a Hurts pass, which LB Jerome Baker returned for a TD. The refs didn’t stop though.
Later, with the Dolphins driving, QB Tua Tagovailoa threw an INT to Darius Slay, but the intended target, RB Raheem Mostert, was being tackled right behind him before the ball arrived. Once again, no flag came out! The disparity between how the refs called this game for the two sides was incredible. They actually needed the help to steal a 31-17 win over a team missing half its secondary and offensive line. I think in the end, this guy summed it up best. The NFL says they care so much about the “integrity of the game”. If so, they need to stop their zebras from putting their thumbs on the scale in so many games.
Pass Protection Continues to Sink Commanders
Most of this season was devoted to examining QB Sam Howell if you’re a Commanders fan. I even had him as my #1 QB in his (very week) draft class. You might not get the chance to seem him though if he keeps getting abused at this rate. While it’s true that Howell needs to get rid of the football a bit faster, this week against the Giants, he was hit before he could do so. The league leader in sacks taken, Howell absorbed 6 more versus NYG, several of them within 2 seconds of the snap. The pressure also forced him into 20 incompletions, some of which were thrown away to avoid taking even more sacks.
This line was a known weakness going into the season, but Washington has done nothing to address it. Howell also isn’t getting help from receivers not named Terry McLaurin. Jahan Dotson dropped a 4th-down pass that would have set up a first and goal with 1:01 to go. Instead, the Commanders turned the ball over on downs and fell 14-7. Still with an outside chance to try again, DT Daron Payne got hurt, which reset the play clock and allowed NYG to end the game. That odd and stupid rule aside, the season-long flaw here is the offensive line. Howell is tough, but everyone has a limit. Protect this man if you want him to succeed.
Ravens, Patriots Each Earn Surprising Victories
Baltimore beating Detroit wasn’t surprising on its own. Both are very good teams. It’s how the Ravens won that shocked people (including me). They took a 28-0 lead almost immediately, so quickly that Detroit hadn’t yet earned one first down. Detroit wouldn’t score their lone garbage-time TD until Baltimore had a 35-0 lead. Lamar Jackson had his best career performance, going 21/27 for 356 yards and 3 TDs through the air and of course adding 36 yards and a score on the ground. Two of those TDs went to TE Mark Andrews (4/63), who was wide open all game. This letdown game might wake the Lions up, but it mainly put the AFC on notice about Baltimore.
New England winning at all against a team like the Bills came out of nowhere. Buffalo’s offense has an ominous start, with QB Josh Allen throwing a pick on their first play from scrimmage. The Patriots ceded some production because it’s hard to stop this team, but they controlled the game for the most part, allowing just 25 points. Embattled QB Mac Jones had a sorely needed great game, finishing with a sterling line of 25/30 with 272 yards, 2 TDs, and most importantly, NO TURNOVERS. This is the player that NE spent the 15th overall pick on in 2021, and the hope is that this game acts as a springboard for his season (and career).
After leading for the majority of the game, Buffalo took a 25-22 lead late in the 4th quarter. How the Patriots responded speaks volumes. Jones remained calm in the pocket despite some heavy pressure, leading an 8-play, 75-yard TD drive that culminated in a Mike Gesicki TD catch. With only 12 seconds remaining, Buffalo fell 29-22. I’m not sure New England’s season can still be saved, but that may also not be the point. Given the news that HC Bill Belichick quietly signed a multiyear extension, the goal is to prep for the future and see which current players are building blocks. A few more might have moved into that column after this win.
Happy National Tight Ends Day!
It’s the 4th Sunday in October, and you know what that means. It’s National TE Day, and the players at the position definitely came to play. Here, I’m sharing the stats of the top TEs across the league in week 7. In addition to Mike Gesicki and Mark Andrews, both of whom are mentioned above, the following players can take a bow. On Thursday, the Saints’ Taysom Hill had 5 carries for 18 yards and a TD on the ground, plus 4 catches for 50 yards through the air. Early Sunday, Kyle Pitts made a ridiculous catch, but Atlanta still underutilizes him. Buffalo’s Dalton Kincaid had the best day among rookie TEs, catching 8 passes for 75 yards.
The other 3 players I’m recognizing are all star TEs that you know well, who did what they do all the time. NYG’s Darren Waller had a resurgent game with backup QB Tyrod Taylor. He caught 7 passes for 98 yards and a score, and someone needs to tell Daniel Jones to throw to this guy once he returns from injury. The obvious name on this list is Travis Kelce. The Chiefs’ star and Taylor Swift’s plus-1 went off, bringing in 12 receptions for an insane 179 yards and a TD. He dragged KC’s offense to a win over the Chargers. On Sunday Night Football, Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert caught 5 passes for 77 yards and 1 TD.
Finally, on MNF, both starting TEs had good games. Minnesota’s TJ Hockenson had a game-high 11 catches for 86 yards in the Vikings’ upset win. On the other side, George Kittle caught 5 passes for 78 yards, pacing the Niners. Other TEs around the league were contributors as well, and many of them had impacts that you can’t see on a stat sheet. As Kittle, one of the founders of this holiday, can tell you, blocking is a big part of the game for many TEs. They’re also known as QBs’ best friends for a reason. No matter how they affect a game, TEs are definitely worth celebrating.