Sunday’s Week 7 NFL slate was about as weird as it gets. In the states, it started with the Cleveland Browns playing their fourth overtime game this season, losing yet again in a heartbreaker. Prior to that, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel made one interesting late-game decision in a loss to the Chargers across the pond.
As the later-afternoon slate got going, missed kicks in both the nation’s capital and a bit further east in Maryland cost two playoff hopefuls. These two plays will have wide-ranging ramifications for four teams moving forward.
These are also among the top takeaways for Sunday’s Week 7 NFL action.
Chiefs make major statement in rebound performance
The Kansas City Chiefs responded in a big way Sunday night after losing to the New England Patriots on a prime-time stage last week. Having seen this week’s game against Cincinnati flexed to Sunday night, it presented Patrick Mahomes and Co. with yet another opportunity to impress a national audience. That’s exactly what the team did in a blowout 45-10 win over a previously 4-2 Bengals squad.
Big plays on offense coupled with a surprisingly ball-hawking defense inspired this latest win. Kareem Hunt was absolutely absurd throughout the game, going for 141 total yards and three touchdowns on 20 touches. Meanwhile, Mahomes went for 403 total yards and four scores. We’re looking at what could be a historically significant offense here, and it has Kansas City in obvious Super Bowl contention.
Mike Vrabel struggling from the sidelines
Despite heading into this week’s game against the Chargers in London with a 3-3 mark, the Titans have been pretty darn bad this season. That includes Tennessee putting up a total of 13 points during a two-game losing streak entering Week 7. For a while there, it seemed like Vrabel and Co. would get off the schneid against a superior Los Angeles squad. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Having controlled the time of possession battle and dominating on the ground, Tennessee had an opportunity to force overtime late in the fourth quarter. Following a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Luke Stocker to pull within one point, Vrabel decided to go for two and the win. In and of itself, that decision left a lot to be desired. Though, the call to go empty set with Mariota was the bigger issue. The pass fell incomplete, leading to a third consecutive loss. It’s these in-game decisions that have plagued Vrabel during his rookie season.
Eagles’ Super Bowl hangover is real
There was some concern that Philadelphia might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics en route to winning its first ever Super Bowl. Being without Carson Wentz to open the season didn’t help. He’s now 100 percent healthy and playing good football, but the rest of the team has failed to step up. That came out in droves Sunday against Carolina.
Philadelphia opened up a 17-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, only to see Cam Newton run roughshod on its defense to the tune of 200-plus passing yards and three touchdown scoring drives in the final stanza. It’s in this that the Eagles blew a three-score lead, losing 21-17. This, despite the fact that Wentz himself completed 30-of-37 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
We haven’t heard the last of the Ravens
It took a Justin Tucker missed extra point, the first of his career, for the Ravens to fall to a red-hot New Orleans Saints team at home on Sunday. In what was the best game of the day, Baltimore proved itself to be a tough out. It held a high-flying Saints offense to just 339 yards with Alvin Kamara putting up just 75 total yards on 19 touches. Offensively, Joe Flacco continued his tremendous season by tossing two touchdowns compared to zero interceptions.
While the loss will hurt for some time, Baltimore proved that it will have a say in the AFC North race before all is said and done. Flacco’s career season, combined with the NFL’s best defense tells us this story. And Sunday’s narrow 24-23 loss was the latest example.
Vikings defense gets going
Sans the injured Dalvin Cook, Minnesota’s offense is very much still a work on progress. Latavius Murray couldn’t get it going against a stout Jets defensive front until a garbage-time touchdown. Kirk Cousins avoided turnovers, but did nothing more than manage the game. Even then, these Vikings were able to come away with their third consecutive win after struggling to open up the season.
It started and ended with the defense. Minnesota held rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to 17-of-42 passing for 206 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. All said, the Jets put up 263 total yards of offense in a 37-17 Vikings win. It’s this type of strong performance that can go a long way in determining whether the Vikings are in fact legit Super Bowl contenders.
Jason Garrett fails his Cowboys again
The Dallas Cowboys nearly mounted what could have very well been a season-defining comeback against the Washington Redskins in D.C. on Sunday. Dallas looked dead in the water after Dak Prescott lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Preston Smith to give Washington a 20-10 lead with less than five minutes left in the final stanza. That’s when Dak and the Cowboys came back in a big way, ultimately finding themselves in plus territory and down by just three points with less than a minute left.
The conservative nature of Mr. Garrett would then come back to haunt Big D. Officials had reviewed a Cole Beasley catch at Washington’s 31 with 11 seconds left. As the call was confirmed, Garrett had time to draw up a play. It was first-and-10 with one timeout remaining. He ran up the middle with Ezekiel Elliott instead of attempting a pass in the end zone. If Washington had prepared for that, a dump off pass would have netted positive yardage. Instead, kicker Brett Maher doinked a long 52-yard field goal following a false start. It was just a dumb play call from Garrett, and it now has Dallas at 3-4 through seven games.
These are the Browns we all know
Heartbreak. That’s about the best way to describe Cleveland’s second overtime loss in four tries this season Sunday against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Having seen Baker Mayfield lead the team back from a multi-score second-half deficit, and with Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro missing a potential game-winning field goal to end regulation, the hope was Cleveland could pull off its third win of the season. It was not to be.
Getting the ball in plus territory following an overtime interception from Jameis Winston, Mayfield and Co. couldn’t cash in. In fact, they lost seven yards. A few minutes later, Catanaro atoned himself by nailing a 59-yard game-winning field goal. Yeah, the Browns just can’t catch a break this season. And it’s a continuation of what we’ve seen over the past two decades.
Jaguars have only themselves to blame
The football world’s reaction to Jacksonville benching Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler Sunday was pretty darn funny. Of course, Bortles will be blamed for his struggles. That’s the way it should be. Having been outscored 90-21 in the month of October and in the midst of a two-game losing streak, the Jaguars needed a spark against Houston on Sunday. They were down 20-0 at the time with absolutely nothing happening on offense.
Again, Bortles deserves some of the blame. But what did the Jaguars expect when they extended him during the offseason? Did they think he’d become a player that he clearly hasn’t been in four seasons with the team? With the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Kirk Cousins available during the offseason, Jacksonville failed by projecting Bortles would improve. And it has the team on the brink of irrelevance in the AFC following Sunday’s 20-7 loss to Houston.
The Rams are a machine
Blowing out a hapless San Francisco 49ers team isn’t necessarily anything to write home about. Taking advantage of four turnovers and turning them into 24 points is great. But it’s the San Francisco 49ers we’re talking about here — one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Even then, Los Angeles’ domination from the start was something to behold. It took the 49ers behind the woodshed in every possible way, winning by the score of 39-10 to remain undefeated. Todd Gurley went for three more total touchdowns and is on pace for what would be a league-record 32 touchdowns. These Rams are a machine, and might very well be Super Bowl favorites. It’s simply stunning how good they are.
Is Drew Brees playing his best football?
Taking on the NFL’s best defense on the road Sunday, Mr. Brees continued to play what many might conclude is the best football of his career. The future Hall of Famer didn’t necessarily put up awe-inspiring numbers in a 24-23 in over Baltimore. Instead, he managed the game and avoided the turnover bug that has has plagued opposing quarterbacks against the Ravens this season.
Brees completed 22-of-30 passes for 212 yards. He also led the Saints on three touchdown-scoring drives of 56-plus yards, tossing two scores himself. It was a workmanlike effort for a quarterback that has thrown 13 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions while boasting a near-78 percent completion mark. Just brilliant stuff from one of the best quarterbacks to ever play.
Lions hitting their stride
A 2-3 start to the season didn’t paint first-year head coach Matt Patricia in the best of lights. That included losses to the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys, three teams that boasted a combined 7-14 record after Sunday’s action. Though, the Lions also defeated both Green Bay and New England. The question against Miami was whether these Lions could take advantage of an inferior opponent. That’s exactly what the team did in a 32-21 win.
Finally getting some balance on offense, Matthew Stafford saw the likes of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount record 208 combined yards on 29 attempts. Meanwhile, Stafford himself played flawless football to push Detroit to 3-3 on the season and right in the mix of the NFC North title race. It sure seems that Patricia and Co. have turned the corner.
Special teams come up huge for Patriots
In an otherwise close game against the Bears in Chicago on Sunday, the Patriots needed other aspects of the team to step up outside of Tom Brady. That’s exactly what we saw in New England’s 38-31 victory, its fourth consecutive win after starting the season 1-2.
It started with special teams stud Cordarrelle Patterson leaving Chicago’s kick coverage team in the dust on a 95-yard touchdown return. New England was down 17-7 at the time, and it gave the team momentum. Then, with the game tied at 21 late in the third quarter, Dont’a Hightower blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Kyle Van Noy. That was pretty much the difference in a seven-point Patriots win. It’s also what makes this team so darn dangerous. In a game that saw the offense not do a whole lot, the Pats were able to come away with a win.
Andrew Luck is back
We focused on the Colts’ need to get help from someone not named Andrew Luck following a 1-5 start to the season. It sure helped that they took on a bad Bills team on Sunday, but Luck really didn’t need a whole heck of a lot of help in this one.
The former Pro Bowler completed 17-of-23 passes for a mere 156 yards yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a blowout 37-5 win. That included two touchdown tosses to T.Y. Hilton after the wide receiver missed last week’s game to injury. While this won’t be anough for the Colts to contend for a playoff spot, it’s great to see Luck back at the top of his game. He now has 20 touchdowns through seven games and 15 over his past four outings.
Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles bad omen for the Bears
Outside of two special teams breakdowns, these Bears were right in the game against a superior Patriots team on Sunday. Their defense improved from last week’s utter humiliation, and everything was seemingly set up for an upset win and a 4-2 start to the season.
Unfortunately, this second-year quarterback was having none of it. Trubisky struggled something fierce, completing a grand total of eight of his 26 passes to wide receivers. He also threw two costly interceptions, the second one leading directly to a Patriots 96-yard touchdown scoring drive to put the game away. Simply put, Trubisky didn’t do enough to help his team win this one. And it’s becoming a common theme in the Windy City.
Texans coming on strong
It hasn’t been anywhere near perfect in recent weeks for the Texans, but they’ve turned an 0-3 start into a 4-3 record and first place in the pedestrian AFC South. The latest performance against a struggling Jaguars squad tells us a story of a team that’s hitting its stride at just the right time.
More than anything, it was all about a swarming defense. Houston got to Jacksonville quarterbacks for four sacks, including two by Jadeveon Clowney. All said, the Texans allowed seven points and just 259 total yards. Despite a less-than-stellar performance on offense, this enabled Houston to come out on top, 20-7.
Philip Rivers is a legit NFL MVP candidate
Rivers would have liked more opportunities against the Titans in London Sunday. Tennessee controlled the time of possession battle, only to lose the game after a questionable late-game decision from head coach Mike Vrabel. But when the Chargers’ offense was actually on the field, Rivers was once again in domination mode. He completed 19-of-26 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns and zero picks in the 20-19 win. That included this 75-yard scoring strike to Tyrell Williams.
Now at 5-2 on the season, these Chargers have to be seen as real contenders in the AFC. In fact, the team is 14-5 in its past 19 games. For his part, Rivers has now thrown 17 touchdowns compared to three interceptions for a ridiculous 115.9 quarterback rating on the season. Yeah, he has to be seen as a legit MVP candidate heading into the midway point of the campaign.
Bengals not yet ready for primetime
Cincinnati’s defense looked old and slow against Kansas City Sunday night, giving up an absurd 551 total yards and 33 first downs. The team’s offense didn’t do it any favors, especially quarterback Andy Dalton. He completed 15-of-29 passes in the loss, including a pick-six to really put this one away in the third quarter. When tossing the rock to anyone not named A.J. Green, Dalton completed 8-of-15 passes for 31 yards.
While Cincinnati remains right in the thick of the AFC North race following Baltimore’s heartbreaking loss to New Orleans, things need to be figured out in short order. Dalton must improve. And given just how talented this defense is, it can’t play a role in losing to one of the NFL’s best teams, 45-10, on national television. It’s that simple.