Several games came down to the final play in a day of surprising results, but it all felt like an appetizer for the main course once Seattle and Arizona squared off in an absolute classic in prime time.
Here’s what we learned:
A schedule change made Sunday night special. Fearing that Tampa Bay’s game in Las Vegas could be postponed because of coronavirus precautions, the N.F.L. moved Seattle’s game in Arizona to the prime time spot. As a result, a national audience was treated to a thriller, with the Seahawks taking a lead in the game’s first four minutes and not trailing again until the final play of overtime, when Arizona’s Zane Gonzalez connected on a 48-yard field goal that gave the Cardinals a shocking 37-34 victory.
Russell Wilson threw for 388 yards and rushed for 84, Kyler Murray threw for 360 and rushed for 67, and Tyler Lockett had 200 yards receiving and three touchdowns. But it was Arizona’s defense stepping up in overtime that decided the game. Arizona’s pass rush came alive in that extra period, sacking Wilson twice and pressuring him several other times, leading to Seattle’s last offensive play in which Wilson rushed a bad pass and had it intercepted by seldom-used linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who put his team in the position to win.
“These are the games you honestly dream about,” Murray said after his team improved to 5-2 while handing Seattle its first loss of the season.
Cardinals first round pick Isaiah Simmons picks off Russell Wilson late in overtime to give the Cardinals one more chance to close the game out.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 26, 2020
Chaos reigns in the N.F.C. East. With the way things are going, this division may be decided by a game of rock paper scissors. The Cowboys went to Washington with a chance of improving to 3-4, which would have put them ahead of 2-4-1 Philadelphia for the division lead. Instead, Dallas fell behind Washington early, lost Andy Dalton to a head injury — forcing its little-known third-stringer, Ben DiNucci, to finish the game — and got blown out, 25-3. Kyle Allen (194 yards passing, two touchdowns) and Antonio Gibson (128 yards rushing, one touchdown) had great games for Washington, and just to emphasize how rough things have been in the N.F.L.’s worst division, the team with the worst record in the N.F.C. West — San Francisco — would have a commanding lead in the East.
An immovable object beats an unstoppable force — barely. In a matchup of unbeaten teams, Pittsburgh got off to a 27-7 start — effectively knocking Derrick Henry out of the game — yet watched the game turn into a 27-24 nail-biter. The Titans’ rebirth came courtesy of three interceptions, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining and the Steelers clinging to a 3-point lead. But Tennessee, which started the season with three consecutive games decided by the leg of Stephen Gostkowski, had its magic run out. Gostkowski’s 45-yard attempt to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining sailed wide right, leaving Pittsburgh (6-0) as the N.F.L.’s last unbeaten team.
Ohio suddenly has an intrastate rivalry. A game between Cincinnati and Cleveland got off to an inauspicious start when Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield were both intercepted on their first drives. Odell Beckham Jr. of the Browns was lost to injury on that opening drive, and the Bengals were leading by 17-10 at halftime. But in the second half, the game morphed into a heavyweight bout between Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, and Burrow, the No. 1 pick in 2020. Mayfield won the day, finding Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 24-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining that put Cleveland ahead to say, 37-34. But Burrow nearly kept up, throwing for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
Kansas City can win a game without much help from its offense. Playing in snowy conditions in Denver, the Chiefs were nowhere near their best when they had the ball, going 0 for 8 on third down conversion attempts. But Daniel Sorensen contributed a pick-six, Byron Pringle had a 102-yard kickoff return and the Chiefs demolished the Broncos, 43-16, despite Denver having dramatic advantages in total yards and time of possession.
Atlanta can always find a new way to lose. The Falcons were trailing Detroit by 6 in the game’s final two minutes when Atlanta’s Todd Gurley II broke free for an easy 10-yard touchdown. Aware of the amount of time remaining, Gurley tried to fall down at the 1-yard line, in hopes of chewing up some clock. Unfortunately, he misjudged the distance, barely breaking the plane of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. That mistake gave the Lions 1 minute 4 seconds to go 75 yards, and they did just that, with Matthew Stafford hitting tight end T.J. Hockenson for an 11-yard touchdown as time expired in Detroit’s 23-22 victory.
Every. Yard. Counts. In his return to New Orleans after signing with Carolina in the off-season, Teddy Bridgewater of the Panthers kept things far closer than most predicted. He threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and got some laughs by taking a break on the Saints’ bench, sitting down between his former teammates Drew Brees and Taysom Hill at the end of a play. But with Carolina trailing by 3 with just over two minutes left, Bridgewater took an 8-yard sack, which essentially decided the game. The sack forced Carolina back to the Saints’ 47-yard line, but the team still sent out Joey Slye for what would have been an N.F.L.-record 65-yard field goal. Slye’s kick was true, but it fell less than a yard short of the crossbar, letting New Orleans hang on for a 27-24 win.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Baker Mayfield
It’s hard to imagine a worse start to a game than having your first pass intercepted, having your team’s best receiver injured on that play and then throwing four consecutive incompletions. Things picked up considerably after that for Mayfield, who completed 22 of his final 23 passes for 297 yards and set a new career high with five passing touchdowns. Mayfield endured a great deal of criticism after last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, but he was in a playful mood after his big day. “What criticism?” he asked sarcastically. “What are you talking about?”
Top Runner: Jeff Wilson
San Francisco’s top running back is Raheem Mostert. Coach Kyle Shanahan may actually prefer Tevin Coleman. The 49ers’ third-stringer is Jerick McKinnon, and their highest paid runner out of the backfield is fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Because of injuries to Mostert, Coleman and McKinnon, the team turned to Wilson on Sunday and the former standout for North Texas had the game of his life, racing for 112 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Keeping up with the theme of the season, however, Wilson’s big day ended abruptly when he injured his ankle while scoring his third touchdown. The team has yet to weigh in on the full extent of the injury, but Shanahan said it was “not looking great.”
Top Receiver: Tyler Lockett
It’s a coin flip between Lockett and Green Bay’s Davante Adams, as both receivers had absolutely incredible games. Lockett, however, gets the edge, as he did his damage against Patrick Peterson and a solid Arizona defense, while Adams did his against a lousy Houston secondary that lost its best player, Bradley Roby, in the first quarter.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Buccaneers 45, Raiders 20 Tom Brady continued to spread the ball around, throwing touchdown passes to four different receivers, and Tampa Bay kept its momentum from last week’s blowout win over the Packers.
Cardinals 37, Seahawks 34 Arizona had several moments that would have caused a lesser team to quit. There was Budda Baker being chased down by DK Metcalf on what would have been a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Zane Gonzalez missed an attempt at a game-winner from 41 yards during the Cardinals’ first possession in overtime. And Metcalf had what appeared to be a 48-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime negated by a holding penalty. But the Cardinals kept pushing until they had the win in hand.
Steelers 27, Titans 24 Tennessee’s beleaguered defense snagged three interceptions, making the game far closer than it should have been, but Pittsburgh had to be happy to see James Conner (20 carries, 82 yards) outgain Derrick Henry (20 carries, 75 yards).
Chiefs 43, Broncos 16 Despite a performance that fell well below his typical standards, Patrick Mahomes still extended his streak to 17 consecutive regular-season games with a touchdown pass.
Browns 37, Bengals 34 The Browns’ Rashard Higgins came into the day with five catches this season, but after Odell Beckham Jr. was lost to a knee injury, Higgins stepped up in a big way, with six catches for a career-high 110 yards.
49ers 33, Patriots 6 Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t perfect against his former team, but Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had to be a little jealous watching his former quarterback-in-waiting complete 20 of 25 passes for 277 yards in a blowout, while his current quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, combined for 147 yards passing and four interceptions. That Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski continued their fountain of youth act for Tampa Bay probably didn’t help either.
Packers 35, Texans 20 Deshaun Watson had a nice second half, and made his team look respectable, but Aaron Rodgers had already given his team an insurmountable lead, compiling a passer rating (132.4) that was nearly 100 points higher than what he managed last week (35.4).
Saints 27, Panthers 24 This game was surprisingly close considering New Orleans completed 12 of its 14 third-down attempts, and got field goals from Wil Lutz after the team’s only two failures.
Bills 18, Jets 10 Sam Darnold came back from a shoulder injury, but after he barely completed 50 percent of his passes (12 of 23), threw two interceptions and was sacked six times, he might be wondering why he didn’t take another week to heal. The Jets are 0-7 for just the second time in franchise history and could match the franchise’s worst start (0-8 in 1996) with a loss in Kansas City next week. Buffalo, meanwhile, will go in search of its offense after the team failed to break 20 points for a third consecutive game.
Chargers 39, Jaguars 29 Justin Herbert got his first career win, and he did it in a big way by throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns while also running in a score. Herbert has thrown for at least 250 yards in each of his first five starts, a feat previously only accomplished by Patrick Mahomes, who did it in his first 10.
Lions 23, Falcons 22 Detroit didn’t get much production out of its running backs, but Matthew Stafford threw for 340 yards and a touchdown and the Lions won for the third time in four games. This was the 36th game-winning drive of Stafford’s career, according to Pro Football Reference, which trails only Drew Brees (37) since 2009.
Footballers 25, Cowboys 3 Ezekiel Elliott was held to just 45 yards rushing, fumbled once, had a ball bounce off him for an interception and made mistakes in pass protection. Blame the team’s struggles on Dallas’s second- and third-string quarterbacks all you want, but Elliott isn’t getting the job done.