photo: Getty Images
By Anthony Goss
Last week, I noted that the Steelers had a small COVID-19 outbreak within their organization, and one of those exposed was QB Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger basically did not practice all week and attended zoom meetings online.
Despite this hindrance, he was able to take the field Sunday, and his performance (333 yards and four touchdowns) dismantled the Cincinnati Bengals defense. This has been a strong year for the veteran QB, and he has shown how much the Steelers missed him last season. This year, the Steelers (9-0) are strong on both sides of the ball, but Roethlisberger should be the unquestionable leader for comeback player of the year.
Three Good Things
Cardinals Win on a Prayer
Sometimes, a football game comes down to great players making great plays.
Bills QB Josh Allen capped off a seemingly game-winning drive with a great throw to WR Stefon Diggs with 34 seconds left in the game. Then, wit htwo seconds remaining, QB Kyler Murray avoided a defender to scramble left, heaving the ball into the end zone right into the enormous hands of WR DeAndre Hopkins.
There is a lot to pick at for Buffalo, whether that be the porous defense against Murray, or Allen’s costly interceptions that led to the team’s blown lead, but at the end of the day, Arizona’s best players made an outstanding play. Murray has been outstanding this year, and his dual-threat ability has given defenses fits. The win vaulted the Cardinals into first place in the NFC West division, setting them up for a rematch against the reeling Seahawks in Seattle on Thursday night.
Brady and the Bucs Bounce Back
When the Buccaneers are not playing the Saints, they look like one of the best teams in football. QB Tom Brady rebounded after one of his worst games by throwing for 341 yards and three touchdowns, adding another on a quarterback sneak.
All of the talented weapons on the perimeter for Tampa Bay got involved, including WR Antonio Brown, who posted seven receptions for 69 yards. His progress going forward could make this offense even more dangerous. Carolina looked completely outmatched as the Bucs defense buckled down in the second half after allowing seventeen points and a couple big plays in the first half. The Buccaneers now turn to a Monday night tilt against the Los Angeles Rams, which will be an important game for wild card seeding.
Colts take Control on Thursday Night
After a disappointing effort against the Ravens, the Colts had a short week to prepare for the Titans and RB Derrick Henry, but they were up for the challenge. The Titans outgained the Colts on the ground, but the Colts defense stifled QB Ryan Tannehill in the air.
RB Nyhiem Hines accounted for 115 total yards and two touchdowns to lead the way for a Colts offense coming off of a bad outing against Baltimore. A blocked-punt touchdown gave the Colts separation in the third, and after another touchdown in the fourth, the Colts held on to win 34-17. After a hot start, Tennessee has cooled off and now Indianapolis has the edge in the AFC for the foreseeable future.
Three Bad Things
Seahawks Start to Fade
Seattle rode the play of QB Russell Wilson to a fast start, but as the competition has picked up, the Seahawks have now lost three of four and some major flaws have come to light.
Seattle has a porous defense giving up the most yards per game in the league, most of those coming through the air. All of the Rams’ touchdowns came on the ground, but QB Jared Goff threw for 302 yards to eight different receivers. The Seahawks have been able to mask the defensive woes with the play of Wilson; on Sunday though, the Rams kept him out of rhythm by forcing horrible reads and some bad turnovers.
Wilson’s play was poor, but there was not any help coming from another source against Los Angeles. The Seahawks offensive line allowed six sacks, and Wilson’s best target, WR DK Metcalf, struggled to get open against one of the league’s top defenders in CB Jalen Ramsey. It’s a quick turnaround for the Seahawks, who host the Cardinals on Thursday night, but Seattle has never lost three games in a row with Russell Wilson under center.
Eagles Blow Another Divisional Matchup
There will be an NFC East team hosting a playoff game, and surprisingly, it still might be the Eagles. In a must win game to create separation in this horrible division, the Eagles looked awful. QB Carson Wentz took care of the ball, but his 208 passing yards were nothing of substance.
Coaching has been a gripe in Philadelphia for a while, and Sunday only furthered those frustrations. Head coach Doug Pederson brought his team out of the bye week flat, and he mismanaged several third down and fourth down scenarios. The decision to go for two when the Eagles were down by four was a bad one to put it lightly.
Philly needed this game, as it has a gauntlet of tough matchups upcoming: at Cleveland, Seattle, at Green Bay, New Orleans, and at Arizona. If they can steal one of those games and finish strong in the division, the Eagles should be able to host a Wild Card game, but they have a lot of work to do.
Ugly Weather, Ugly Night for Baltimore
As the rain poured down in Foxborough, so did the Patriots run game on a strong Baltimore defense. Baltimore gave up 173 yards against the Patriots, well above their season average. QB Lamar Jackson had a nice showing with 249 yards and two touchdowns and one pick, but the Baltimore offense lacks the flare it showed last season.
Penalties were another killer in this game, as the Ravens finished with eight for 64 yards. There’s no cause for panic in Charm City in terms of playoff hopes, but hopes of reclaiming the AFC North dwindled with their loss on Sunday night
Keep an Eye On….
Wild Card Race in the AFC
To this point in the season, the AFC runs nine deep with teams contending for playoff spots and records of at least 6-3. The NFL added an extra playoff spot this season in each conference, but there will still be two solid teams left out of the postseason come January.
Watching the playoff picture come together will be intriguing as these teams contend for playoff spots and division crowns. A notable matchup of this group will take place next Sunday when the Titans travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.