Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day’s action and examines the significance of those events moving forward.
Ravens make statement
Handing Tom Brady and the Patriots their first loss of the season with the whole football world watching on Sunday night is about as impressive a win as you’re going to see in this league.
Baltimore’s early 17-0 lead didn’t last, but everyone had to know the Patriots would get themselves back in the game somehow. But unlike so many other teams, the Ravens were able to weather the storm of the New England comeback and fire back with answers of their own.
We’re not about to forecast the demise of the Patriots – that’s been done far too many times in the past, only for Brady and Bill Belichick to have the last laugh in February. This game was less about New England’s shortcomings than it was about the Ravens flat-out balling on the big stage.
Tasked with moving the ball against a historically great defense, Baltimore turned to its stellar ground game led by Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram and ran the ball down the Patriots’ throats all night long. It’s one of the most satisfying ways to win, and one of the most demoralizing ways to lose.
The defense also did its part, consistently pressuring Brady in the pocket and coming away with key turnovers to halt the comeback attempt early in the second half.
No one wants to meet this Ravens team in the playoffs – including the Patriots.
Three-man MVP race
The Ravens’ superb Sunday night win also turned our attention to the MVP race and Lamar Jackson’s mounting candidacy for the individual honor. The way things stand right now, with Patrick Mahomes now having missed multiple games, this could be shaping up as a three-man race.
Arguably the most explosive dual-threat quarterback talent this game has ever seen, Jackson has been phenomenal in his first full year as a starter. His ability to gash opponents on the ground, as we saw against the Patriots, is unmatched at the position, and he’s also made major strides as a passer. Leading the charge in a dismantling of the defending champs certainly qualifies as a signature MVP moment.
The Seahawks’ overtime win over the Buccaneers, meanwhile, provided what may be Russell Wilson’s most compelling case yet. The Legion of Boom is long gone and the Seahawks now field little more than a pedestrian defense, so shootouts like this aren’t exactly going to be rare. But that’s not such a bad thing. Wilson’s the most dangerous passer in the game right now, and falling behind early, as Seattle did Sunday, continues to feel like no big deal because it means putting the ball in his hands. After 378 passing yards and five touchdown passes on the day, he’s on pace to blow away his career highs in both categories.
Deshaun Watson may not get as much love as Wilson and Jackson, perhaps because Houston is more of a fringe contender than the Seahawks and Ravens, but the Texans would be a whole lot worse if not for his Superman-like play. He was once again doing it all in Sunday’s win over the Jaguars in London.
All three quarterbacks can put their teams on their backs and make the kinds of ridiculous improvisational plays you just can’t teach. The MVP chase will be fascinating to watch down the stretch.
Jets hit rock bottom
Adam Gase told reporters he’s not embarrassed by the Jets’ loss to the previously winless Dolphins, but he should be. He should feel humiliated.
Against a team that probably doesn’t want to win, the Jets were outplayed and outcoached. Even for a franchise with a history rich in sadness, this low point felt historic.
Sam Darnold looked unfit to start at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, got revenge against his old team with three touchdown passes.
The loss comes days after the Jets shopped star players including Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell at the trade deadline. The former stormed off the field to the locker room before the game ended.
The Jets have burned bridges with their biggest stars, and the only path out of this darkness could involve firing Gase – perhaps before the end of his debut season in the Big Apple.
With Miami no longer holding the inside track to the first overall pick, the Jets might find themselves facing another very uncomfortable question next spring: If they pick before the Dolphins, do they cut the cord on Darnold and draft a quarterback at the top of the draft?
Dolphins will probably regret winning
If the NFL season ended today, the Cincinnati Bengals would pick first overall. The Dolphins have no one but themselves to blame for that.
Miami ruined its perfect tank by beating the Jets on Sunday. The fleeting joy of avoiding a winless season could soon become months and even years of agony afterward – when the Dolphins are forced to cope with the fact they won’t get Tua Tagovailoa or whoever the consensus top pick turns out to be.
There will be an opportunity to rectify this. Week 16. Bengals and Dolphins.
Don’t screw it up, Miami.
Chiefs’ D getting it done
Even the most casual NFL fan knew the Chiefs would be lighting up the scoreboard this season. And when Patrick Mahomes returns from his injury, potentially as early as next week, they’ll certainly continue to do so.
The big question heading into 2019 was whether the defense could do its part under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. After an impressive outing in Sunday’s win over the Vikings, it sure seems like this group is up to the task.
Kansas City’s pass defense has been quietly strong to this point in the season, and that continued Sunday as the Chiefs limited a red-hot Kirk Cousins to 19 completions on 30 attempts for just 220 yards. Their primary issue early in the year had been a tendency to give up big plays on the ground. Holding NFL rushing leader Dalvin Cook to a mere 71 yards on 21 carries caps a three-week period of major improvement in that regard.
The Chiefs’ defense is now firmly middle of the pack in terms of opponents’ per-play production, surrendering an average of 5.4 yards through nine games. That number will only continue to drop if what we’ve seen over the last few weeks is any indication of what’s to come.
With Mahomes at the helm of an Andy Reid offense on the other side of the ball, that’ll do just fine.
Not ready to say goodbye to Minshew
The NFL’s honeymoon phase with Gardner Minshew seemed to come to an abrupt end in London, but his marriage with the Jaguars deserves to continue.
One of the feel-good stories of the season after taking over for the injured Nick Foles early in Week 1, Minshew failed to throw a touchdown for just the second game this season Sunday against the Texans. He also threw two interceptions, lost two fumbles, and took three sacks. In short, he looked nothing like a budding star and more like a sixth-round rookie whom no one saw as more than a career backup.
And maybe that’s what he truly is. Maybe we all fell for the mustache and the jorts, and concluded too quickly that Minshew’s early-season magic was sustainable.
With Foles healthy enough to return after the Jaguars’ bye, the team could opt to return its $88-million man to the starting job he was signed to hold. But that would be a mistake. Minshew has injected life into Jacksonville and, despite his struggles Sunday, still has more upside than the 30-year-old Foles.
Tomlin bungles challenges…again
Antonio Brown’s NFL flame-out and Le’Veon Bell’s struggles to produce outside Pittsburgh have made Mike Tomlin’s value as a head coach clear. Tomlin excels not in Xs and Os, but in managing and motivating diverse and unique (read: difficult) personalities.
But is it too much to ask him to be just a little better at the basic mechanics of coaching?
Take challenges, for example. Tomlin nearly cost the Steelers a win Sunday, burning two timeouts on two unsuccessful challenges in the span of three plays with about two minutes left in a close game. Neither challenge had any realistic chance of leading to an overturned call.
Adam Vinatieri missed what could have been a game-winning kick, so Tomlin didn’t end up needing those timeouts. But that shouldn’t excuse his mismanagement.
If the Steelers fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders next year with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, it would be malpractice not to hire a clock- and challenge-management specialist – and give that individual a direct line to Tomlin’s ear.
Let Singletary eat
Thanks to an incredibly favorable regular-season schedule, we probably won’t know exactly how good, or not good, the 6-2 Bills are until they get to the playoffs. And that’s almost certainly where they’re going at this point.
But one thing is for sure: They’re a much better team when the offense is designed around their most dynamic playmaker, Devin Singletary.
Buffalo can be forgiven for not getting the third-round rookie a major workload sooner, as he did miss some time with a hamstring injury. But there will be no excuse moving forward. He was the driving force in Sunday’s win over the Redskins, taking 20 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for another 45 yards.
Singletary’s quickness, both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield, constantly has defenders missing on tackle attempts; his ability to create yards for himself will be key for a Bills offense that has, to this point, been limited by a young quarterback who leaves far too many plays on the field.
Frank Gore has earned himself a role, but making Singletary the offensive centerpiece gives Buffalo its best chance at complementing an outstanding defense and competing with the AFC’s elite come January.
Chargers still kickin’
Well, who saw that one coming?
Just as the NFL world was preparing to write off the Chargers, consecutive wins over the Bears and Packers – the latter coming Sunday in convincing and stunning fashion – put Los Angeles at 4-5 and right back in the AFC wild-card mix.
Nobody will be betting on a Chargers playoff run, because they’re just that maddening a team, but would you bet against them?
The defense is legit, and the hope is that Derwin James will be ready to return at some point down the stretch. Philip Rivers and the offense have been up and down, but Melvin Gordon now appears to be rounding into form, and the Chargers seemed to strike a perfect balance between him and Austin Ekeler against Green Bay.
Thursday night’s divisional game against the Raiders, who moved to 4-4 with their own impressive win over the Lions, suddenly has major AFC playoff implications.
Vinatieri’s decline is hard to watch
Father Time comes for every athlete. For some, like 46-year-old Adam Vinatieri, the wait is lengthy. But the reckoning always comes.
It seemed to arrive for Vinatieri earlier this year. After he started the season 1-for-3 on field-goal attempts and 2-for-5 on extra points, it was impossible not to ask if he might walk away from the game. Instead, with the Colts’ support, the NFL’s older player decided to soldier on.
There have been fewer missed kicks since then, but even the successful attempts seem to travel feebly through the uprights – often just barely. The most clutch kicker in football history just doesn’t have it anymore.
That sad reality was apparent again Sunday when Vinatieri badly shanked a potential game-winning field goal against the Steelers (though it must be noted the hold left something to be desired).
The Colts are in a tough place here. They certainly don’t want to cut a player who’s provided so much value to the franchise over the years – and it’s not like serviceable kickers are easy to pluck out of free agency. It seems the end of Vinatieri’s career will have to come on his terms.
So, he’ll limp to the finish line of his Hall of Fame career, with fans gritting their teeth and closing their eyes on every kick attempt.