It was a fun weekend for NFL fans, as there were a plethora of really good games for us to watch. While there were a handful of blowouts, over half of the league's matchups were decided by three or fewer points, which made for several thrilling finishes. I'm going to discuss the most compelling outcomes of the week, whether that be down to the wire finishes, unbelievable performances, or shocking defeats. I won't be covering every game this time, but I'll definitely touch on the biggest storylines from a fantastic football weekend.
1. And One Remains
Going into the week, I said the matchup of the undefeateds between the Steelers and Titans would be the most exciting game of the week. And, overall, it did not disappoint. Pittsburgh got out to a huge 27-7 lead early in the third quarter before a 73-yard slant route to the house from A.J. Brown sparked a late Tennessee comeback effort. Unfortunately, we were robbed of an overtime affair after Stephen Gostowski missed a 45-yarder with 14 seconds to play. Still, the fact that the Titans managed to only lose 27-24 after the Steelers dominated the first 35 minutes of the ballgame demonstrates that both of these teams are for real.
I would argue that the Steelers are the best team in football right now based solely off of their performances this season. Most of their games have been close (with the exception of a 38-7 drubbing of the Browns), but I've been a believer that they are deliberately taking it easy on offense to rest an aging Ben Roethlisberger and save some of their playbook for later into the season. It's going to be tough to come out of the AFC every year now while Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are helming an offense, but Pittsburgh's defense can pose a serious threat to both of those elite quarterbacks. We'll get to see them take on Jackson and the Ravens this Sunday to see if the Steelers can remain the lone undefeated team in the league.
2. Battle of the Birds
If the Steelers - Titans matchup was the most intriguing of the week, the duel between the Seahawks and Cardinals was a close second. Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray are both so fun to watch, and they both had really good performances in this one. I was kind of shocked when Arizona had a chance late in the fourth quarter to send it to overtime because it felt like Seattle sort of dominated most of the game. Nevertheless, Arizona handed Seattle their first loss of the season and are now within one game of first place in the NFC West.
I thought it was a bad decision by Pete Carroll to run the ball on third and short up three with around two minutes to play. I thought he should've let Wilson roll out, try to find someone open on a short out or curl route, and slide down in bounds if there was no one blatantly open. It would have had the same result in the worst case, a fourth down with the Cardinals forced to call their final timeout. However, I trust Russell Wilson with the ball in his hands late in a game to make a smart play and pick up a couple yards to win the game more than I would trust a run or my defense to do the same.
We can't talk about this game without mentioning D.K. Metcalf's chase down of Budda Baker to save a touchdown... D.K. accelerated from basically a standstill ten yards behind to catch and tackle a free safety who was already near top speed when he intercepted the ball. Metcalf reached 22.64 MPH on a play that made my jaw drop when I saw it happening live. I had the over in this game, so I was pretty upset when Seattle turned it over inside the five yard line. But my anger turned to glee when I saw that it was going to be a pick six for the defense (or so I thought). It flipped again when Arizona managed to turn the ball over on downs after starting from inside the 10-yard line. Luckily for me, the over still ultimately hit with ease despite Metcalf's heroics.
3. NFC Teams Roll
There were three cross-conference games this week: Green Bay at Houston, Tampa Bay at Las Vegas, and San Francisco at New England. All three NFC teams in these matchups won in decisive fashions despite being the away team in each matchup. The games were decided by 15, 25, and 27 points respectively, and none of them were particularly close throughout.
Now, I kind of expected the Packers and Bucs to roll, as I think they're two of the best teams in the NFC, but the Boston Massacre II laid down by the 49ers was surprising to me. They did it in a completely different manner than the other two teams did, as the Niners just ran it down New Englands' throats. Jimmy Garoppolo had a respectable stat line of 20/25 with 277 yards, but he had no touchdowns and two of his five incompletions were interceptions. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady each threw four touchdowns, and Brady amassed over 350 yards through the air. The Raiders are probably the best of these three losing AFC teams, so Tampa's annihilation of them is the most impressive win of the trio in my opinion. Still, it was good news for the NFC to see their teams prevail over their AFC foes.
4. The Blueblood Blues
The Patriots aren't the only prestigious franchise struggling right now, as the Dallas Cowboys lost 25-3 to the Washington Football Team (wow). Dallas and New England are two of the most iconic organizations in all of sports, and both are suffering heavily from a lack of a dependable quarterback. Although, in Dallas's case, they couldn't win even when Dak Prescott was healthy and throwing for 800 yards per game, so I'm not sure how much of the blame can be put on the quarterback directly for them. I think the Cowboys have essentially given up this season after watching them get destroyed by Washington. And with only two wins so far and no quarterback signed long-term, Jerry Jones could try to pull some strings to land Trevor Lawrence. I can't lie, even though I hate the Cowboys, that would be a fun team to watch.
I don't know what happened to Cam Newton, but after a really strong start, he has fallen apart over the last two games, throwing five total picks between both of them. He was finally benched in the third quarter against the Niners for backup Jarrett Stidham, who did not find much more success than Newton did. If things don't turn around, it's looking like Bill Belichick made a mistake ditching Tom Brady considering Brady's performance in his past couple games. There is still time for New England to turn it around, but I think they're finally feeling the effects of a lack of talent at skill positions on offense and a host of star defensive players who left or opted out in the offseason.
5. A Baker's Dozen
Pretty much everyone has been bearish on Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield seemingly for his entire NFL career, but on Sunday against the Bengals, he put on a show. After starting the game 0/5 with an interception, Mayfield closed the game with a stat line of 22/23 for 297 yards and five touchdowns. The lone incompletion was the result of a spike to stop the clock on Cleveland's game-winning drive, so Baker virtually played a perfect game after is 0/5 start. With 11 seconds left, Baker threw an absolute dime to the side of the end zone to Donovan Peoples-Jones to win the game, concluding a game that was back and forth all day. The biggest story from the game, however, is that O'Dell Beckham, Jr. tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. It'll be interesting to see how Cleveland's offense performs going forward without their star receiver, but if Baker Mayfield can continue his hot streak, it won't matter that Beckham isn't out there.
I don't want to overlook how Joe Burrow and the Bengals looked, because they were leading for much of the game and came very close to knocking off their division rivals. Burrow tossed for over 400 yards and three touchdowns, including one to Giovani Bernard to take the lead with just over a minute to play. He completed five or more passes to five different receivers, signaling his ability to spread the ball around and not have to rely on one or two guys. Cincinnati has only won one game this season, but with performances like this from the offense, they're bound to win a few more if their defense plays up to par.
6. Yet Another Unique Loss
The Falcons found yet another unique way to lose a game, falling 23-22 at home against the Lions. This time, their loss can be attributed to an ill-timed touchdown scored. Yes, that's right, Atlanta scored a touchdown that ultimately caused their demise. I'll explain.
With just over a minute to go in the fourth quarter, Atlanta had the ball in the red zone down 16-14. Once they got to around the 20-yard line, they started milking the clock, as they should, so that they could force Detroit to use their timeouts so it would be harder to drive down and score quickly if they got the ball back. After three runs, the third of which going for a first down, the Lions had called all three of their timeouts and couldn't stop the clock again. All the Falcons had to do was run it closer to the end zone, go down, take 40 seconds off the clock, and repeat the process until they either score a touchdown or kick a field goal with almost no time remaining. This is the type of clock management that Madden players are able to figure out. But with 1:06 remaining, on first down, with Detroit having no way of stopping the clock, Todd Gurley scored a touchdown. They converted a two-point conversion to make it a six-point game, but it left enough time for Matthew Stafford to drive down and throw a touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson with no time remaining, winning the game off of the ensuing extra point.
This loss brings Atlanta to 1-6 on the season, and it's baffling how they lose time and time again in unique ways. Crazily, the same thing happened to Penn State in their game against Indiana the day before, but that one was even worse because they were up by 1 point and didn't even need to score. Here's an insane stat: the Falcons have now lost three games this season (out of only seven) where they had a win probability of at least 98%, which is the most by a team in the last 20 seasons. Keep in mind that they're not even halfway through this season, so there's no telling how many more time this happens for the remainder of the season. I feel so bad for Falcons fans. They've had a rough decade or so. From the outside, though, it's honestly kind of comical.
Written by Nick Swatson
Expert Nick Swatson discusses all the news, predictions, and outcomes surrounding the NFL.