After being left for dead following a 1-4 start, all of a sudden, the Atlanta Falcons are right back in the NFC playoff hunt after destroying the Redskins 38-14 in Washington on Sunday.
The Falcons have quietly put together a three-game winning streak and during the streak, the recipe for each win has been pretty similar: Matt Ryan torches the other team and then the Falcons defense plays just good enough to win. Against the Redskins, there was one minor change to the formula: Atlanta’s defense looked almost as good as Ryan.
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Going into Week 9, the Falcons were giving up more yards per game (419.4) than anyone in the NFC, more points per game (30.3) than all but two other NFL teams and they also ranked 30th overall in passing defense. Basically, they’ve been nothing short of a disaster, but that seemed to change in Washington.
The Falcons defense started by shutting down Adrian Peterson. Peterson went into the game ranked fifth in the NFL and third in the NFC in rushing, but he couldn’t find anywhere to run against the Falcons. In the first half, the Falcons held him to just 15 yards on six carries, which was a big deal, because by the time the Redskins touched the ball for the first time in the second half, they were already trailing 28-7, which forced them to abandon the run game. Peterson carried the ball only three times for two yards in the second half.
When the Redskins were forced to pass, the Falcons were ready. They spent most of the second half putting pressure on Alex Smith, who had nowhere to throw. Smith was sacked three times in the game with two of those coming from Falcons defensive end Jack Crawford. The Falcons also forced Smith into making a rare mistake: An interception.
The fourth-quarter pick by Damontae Kazee marked the first time since Week 4 that Smith had thrown an interception. The only thing more impressive than the play of the Falcons’ defense was the play of Ryan.
Ryan has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL over the past month and the Redskins definitely weren’t able to cool him off. Ryan shredded Washington’s defense for 350 yards and four touchdowns and he even threw in quite the surprise for Julio Jones fantasy owners: A touchdown pass to Jones!
It marked the first time since Week 11 in 2017 that Jones had caught a touchdown. Ryan now has 17 touchdown passes since Week 3, which is third most in the NFL, behind only Andrew Luck and Patrick Mahomes, who both have 19, although Mahomes has played one more game than both Luck and Ryan since he hasn’t had a bye yet.
Ryan is playing like he did during his MVP season in 2016, which is good news for the Falcons, because Atlanta gets to play six of its final eight games against teams that are currently .500 or below. That number could jump to seven of eight if the Packers lose to the Patriots on Sunday night.
Basically, the Falcons have put themselves back in the NFC playoff race and with the way Ryan is playing, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them sneak into the postseason.
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Pittsburgh 23-16 over Baltimore
After losing to the Ravens in Week 4, Ben Roethlisberger apparently took it personally, because he made sure it didn’t happen again in their rematch. Not only did Big Ben throw for 270 yards and a two touchdowns, but he also tacked on a rushing touchdown in the third quarter that gave Pittsburgh a 20-6 lead, and for good measure, he also had a punt. James Conner also came up big for the Steelers with 163 total yards (107 rushing, 56 receiving) and a touchdown catch. Conner is now officially doing things that Le’Veon Bell has never done.
If Bell actually shows up this week, he’s going to have to wrestle the starting job away from Conner.
If John Harbaugh is on the hot seat, the Ravens definitely didn’t do anything to make things better against the Steelers. The Ravens struggled on offense for most of the game and absolutely fell apart in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on just one of four trips. That’s a notable number because the Ravens went into Week 9 with the NFL’s fourth-best red zone scoring offense. The Ravens defense, which came into the game leading the NFL in sacks and fewest yards surrendered, couldn’t get any pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 270 yards and was only sacked once.
Atlanta 38-14 over Washington
With Matt Ryan having his way against the Redskins, that opened up things for the Falcons on the ground and they definitely took advantage of that. The Falcons averaged an impressive 6.4 yards per carry (24 carries for 154 yards). Atlanta was led by Tevin Coleman (13 carries, 88 yards) and Ito Smith (10 carries, 60 yards and a touchdown). Thanks to those two running backs, the Falcons haven’t missed a beat on the ground since putting Devonta Freeman on injured reserve.
This game was a total disaster for the Redskins: Their defense was bad on third down, their offense disappeared and they seemed to get penalized on every other play. The Redskins allowed the Falcons offense to convert 10 of 13 third downs, which allowed Atlanta to extend drives against a Redskins defense that started to look tired in the second half. Washington’s offense didn’t help things as they were only able to put up 14 points on a Falcons defense that went into Sunday with the NFL’s third-worst scoring defense, giving up 30.3 points per game. The penalties were also ugly as the Redskins racked up their most penalty yards (147) since 1971.
Miami 13-6 over N.Y. Jets
The Jets had their best defensive performance in four years, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a rookie meltdown from Sam Darnold. An erratic Darnold threw more touchdown passes to the Dolphins (1) than he did to the Jets (0). Darnold’s four interceptions in Miami cost the Jets dearly. Due to Darnold’s play, the Jets offense never really came close to scoring a touchdown. Things were so bad for the Jets that they didn’t get inside of Miami’s 20-yard line a single time the entire game. Jordan Jenkins was one of the few bright spots for the Jets as he picked up two of New York’s four sacks. The Jets held the Dolphins to just 168 total yards, which was the lowest total they’ve surrendered since Week 1 in 2014.
This wasn’t the ugliest win in Dolphins history, but it was probably close. On a day where the Dolphins got absolutely nothing from their offense (just 168 total yards), Miami’s defense saved the day. Cameron Wake and Akeem Spence each sacked Sam Darnold in a game where the Jets quarterback rarely had time to throw. Oh and when he did throw, most of his passes were caught by the Dolphins. Miami picked Darnold off four times, including a 25-yard pick-six by Jerome Baker in the fourth quarter that basically iced the game. This game marked the first time since 2010 that Miami won a game with under 170 total yards. Coincidentally, the last time it happened also came against the Jets.
Minnesota 24-9 over Detroit
Maybe trading away your leading wide receiver isn’t actually a good idea. In their first game since sending Golden Tate to Philadelphia, the Lions offense had a disastrous performance from start to finish. They couldn’t protect Matthew Stafford (sacked 10 times), they couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone (0-for-3) and really, they just couldn’t move the ball. The Lions put up only 209 yards of total offense, which is the second-lowest total in Stafford’s career and the lowest total in a game where Stafford plays from start to finish.
The Vikings have fielded some of the best defenses in NFL history (Purple People Eaters, anyone), but none of them ever pulled off what Minnesota’s defense pulled off on Sunday. The Vikings set a franchise-record by racking up 10 sacks against the Lions and there’s a good chance that Matthew Stafford is going to be having nightmares of Danielle Hunter for the rest of the year. Not only did Hunter tally 3.5 of those sacks, but he also took a bad pitch by Stafford and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings offense wasn’t great, but they did get a small spark from Dalvin Cook, who was playing for the first time in five weeks. Cook, who finished with 89 yards, set up the Vikings’ second touchdown when he broke loose for a 70-yard run in the second quarter.
Kansas City 37-21 over Cleveland
Kansas City’s offense continues to be unstoppable. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on five of their first six possessions in this game and the only possession that didn’t end with a touchdown came because Patrick Mahomes threw an interception on a Hail Mary to end the first half. Mahomes had his way with the Browns, throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Kareen Hunt also had his way with the Browns, terrorizing them on the ground (91 yards, two touchdowns) and through the air (50 receiving yards, 1 touchdown). You know what? Pretty much everyone on the Chiefs offense had their way with the Browns.
If the firing of Hue Jackson was supposed to inspire the Browns this week, that plan definitely didn’t work. Despite being led by an interim coach (Gregg Williams) who specializes in defense, the Browns had no answers for the Chiefs offense, which racked up 499 yards. That’s the second most the Browns have given up in a home game since 2009. The one thing the Browns did get in this game was encouraging play from their rookies. Both Baker Mayfield (297 yards, two touchdown passes) and Nick Chubb (22 carries, 85 yards, one touchdown) were impressive for parts of the game. The other thing we saw from the Browns was the “unveiling” of Duke Johnson. For some reason, Todd Haley refused to use Johnson, but with Haley out, the Browns took advantage of having Johnson on Sunday as he caught nine passes for 78 yards and both of Mayfield’s touchdowns.
Chicago 41-9 over Buffalo
The Bears didn’t even need to bring their offense to this game and that’s because the defense provided enough points (14) to win it on their own. The Bears defensive touchdowns came from Leonard Floyd (19-yard pick-six) and Eddie Jackson (65-yard fumble return), who both scored in the second quarter. The Bears also sacked Nathan Peterman four times. It was a good thing the Bears defense had a big game because the offense only produced 190 total yards. This game marked just the second time in the past 10 years that the Bears have won with under 200 yards of offense.
Nathan Peterman was the Bills starting quarterback in this game, so you probably already know what happened: There were a lot of Buffalo turnovers and the Bills got blown out. Peterman threw three interceptions, including a pick-six, although that wasn’t really his fault because it bounced off one of his receivers. Peterman wasn’t the only Bills player who was giving points to the other team. Tight end Jason Croom fumbled a ball in the second quarter that Chicago returned for a touchdown.
Carolina 42-28 over Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers might want to just start their next game down by three or four touchdowns, because that seems to be when Ryan Fitzpatrick thrives. After falling behind 35-7, the Panthers got a full dose of FitzMagic as the Bucs quarterback helped Tampa cut the lead to 35-28. Unfortunately for Tampa, the FitzMagic ran out in the fourth quarter. Defensively, the Buccaneers got gashed for 179 rushing yards, which is the most they’ve given up all season. The Bucs went into this game with the NFL’s 10th ranked rushing defense and hadn’t even given up 140 rushing yards to any team this year.
The Panthers scored a franchise-record 35 points in the first half and that’s mainly because the Bucs couldn’t figure out how to stop Cam Newton or Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey totaled 157 yards against Tampa (79 rushing, 78 receiving), including two rushing touchdowns in the first half. As for Newton, he was almost perfect in the first half (9 of 12), throwing for 127 yards and a touchdown on his way to a 247-yard, two-touchdown performance. Defensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably never going to want to see Mario Addison ever again. The Panthers had three sacks against Tampa and Addison accounted for all of them.
L.A. Chargers 25-17 over Seattle
The Chargers did the impossible on Sunday: They beat Russell Wilson in Seattle. Going into this week, Wilson had been 12-0 all-time at home against AFC teams, but that’s now 12-1 thanks to the Chargers. Los Angeles got Melvin Gordon back in this game, which was huge, because they needed him. Playing for the first time since Week 6, Gordon rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Chargers also got a big game from Keenan Allen, who totaled 152 yards (28 rushing, 124 receiving). Of course, the Chargers’ biggest problem is still their biggest problem and that problem is at kicker. Caleb Sturgis almost lost this game for L.A. with an ugly performance that included two missed extra points and a missed 42-yard field goal.
Russell Wilson didn’t make many mistakes in this game, but he did make one in the fourth quarter that put Seattle in a big hole. With just 6:44 left, Wilson threw a pick-six that turned a 19-10 Chargers lead into a 25-10 Chargers lead. Of course, there’s a good chance no one’s going to remember that because all anyone is going to remember is that David Moore dropped a potential game-tying touchdown pass on the final play.
Houston 19-17 over Denver
If there’s any team in the NFL that’s perfected the ugly win, it’s the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson got hot early in the game, throwing two first-half touchdown passes, which was almost all the Texans needed to win. Although the Texans struggled against the Broncos defense at times, one player who didn’t was DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins caught 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.
If Vance Joseph is trying to keep his job, his late-game coaching against the Texans isn’t going to help the cause. The Broncos botched the final minute of the game with some questionable coaching that left Brandon McManus attempting a 51-yard field goal on the final play. Joseph didn’t try to get his kicker any closer, which was bad enough. Earlier in the game, he also iced Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn on a 46-yard kick. Although Fairbairn missed the first attempt, he got another shot due to Joseph’s timeout and he nailed it on his second attempt. In a two-point game, those two mistakes by Joseph cost the Broncos big time.
New Orleans 45-35 over L.A. Rams
The Rams only made a few mistakes in this game, but they were all big. In the first half alone, they missed a field goal and threw an interception, two mistakes that both eventually led to touchdowns for New Orleans. Also in the first half, the Rams ran a fake field goal that didn’t work (although it was close) and once the Saints got the ball back, they scored another touchdown. Sean McVay loves to take risks and sometimes those risks don’t pay off, as he found out in New Orleans.
The Saints needed a big day from their offense to knock off the undefeated Rams, and that’s exactly what they got. Michael Thomas ran circles around the Rams secondary, catching 12 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown. And then there was Alvin Kamara, who kept the scoreboard operator active by scoring three of the Saints’ six touchdowns. The Saints didn’t punt a single time in the first half as they shot out to a 35-17 lead. Drew Brees was the man who made all of this happen. The Saints quarterback threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns. The Saints are now 21-1 when Brees throws four or more touchdown passes and no interceptions in a game.
New England 31-17 over Green Bay
This game turned into a blowout because the Packers offense completely disappeared in the second half. After scoring a touchdown on their opening possession of the half, the Packers wouldn’t sniff the end zone again. On their final four possessions of the game, the Packers went three-and-out twice, lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs. Aaron Rodgers was good (259 yards, two touchdowns), but the outmanned Packers needed him to be great to pull off the upset, and he wasn’t.
The Patriots didn’t have Rob Gronkowski or Sony Michel, but that didn’t matter, because they had Josh Gordon and a defense that held Aaron Rodgers in check. Gordon exploded for 130 yards and a touchdown on just three catches. Bill Belichick also outsmarted the Packers with multiple smart moves on offense from turning Cordarrelle Patterson into a running back (11 carries, 61 yards, one TD) to calling a trick play that ended with Julian Edelman throwing a 37-yard completion to James White. Edelman, who is basically New England’s Swiss Army knife, also had 28 yards rushing and 71 yards receiving.
Tennessee 28-14 over Dallas
Marcus Mariota played arguably his best game of the year as he threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the win. The Titans quarterback also had a rushing touchdown. Mariota’s three scores more than made up for the fact that he lost two fumbles. The Titans offense was at its best on third down as they converted 11 of 14 against a Cowboys defense that seemed to become more deflated with each conversion. The Cowboys also got a heavy dose of Dion Lewis, who totaled 122 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the Titans beat up Dak Prescott, sacking him five times. The biggest sack probably came from Jayon Brown, who forced a fumble that the Titans would recover in the third quarter.
The Cowboys got off to a fast start, but this game turned into a disaster for Dallas in the second half. The Cowboys only touched the ball four times in the half and those possessions ended with a lost fumble, two punts and a turnover on downs. For some reason, the Cowboys also gave up on Ezekiel Elliott. After rushing for 29 yards on the opening drive, Elliott was limited to just 32 yards for the rest of the game. The Cowboys also made several huge mistakes including a missed field goal and a Dak Prescott interception in the first half that came after Dallas drove down to the Titans’ 6-yard line. Prescott also lost a fumble in a performance that probably is going to leave most of Cowboys’ nation frustrated.