Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action

By Vincent Frank

Sunday’s slate of NFL action might have been the best thus far this season. A total of eight of the 11 games played were decided by one score with three of them going to overtime.

In Indianapolis, the Colts found a way to break a two-game losing streak while handing the Denver Broncos their first defeat of the season.

Meanwhile, Superman was on full display in Carolina as the Panthers remained undefeated against a game Green Bay Packers squad.

In Santa Clara, the much-maligned San Francisco 49ers found a way to hand Dan Quinn his most embarrassing loss as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

After what was a drama-filled day of action, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys gave us a titanic battle of two mediocre clubs looking to remain relevant in the NFC East picture. In the end, Philadelphia came out on top in overtime.

These are among the top storylines from Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action.

Indianapolis Colts may not be dead in the water

Courtesy of Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports

Just a few short days after firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and with head coach Chuck Pagano firmly on the hot seat, Indianapolis had to take on a red-hot Denver Broncos team that entered Sunday with a perfect record.

In what was a gutsy overall performance for the Colts, they held off Peyton Manning and Co. by the score of 27-24.

It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest thing in the world, but the Colts first half performance laid the foundation for the remainder of the game.

The team took a 17-0 lead before allowing Omar Bolden to return a punt 83 yards for a touchdown as the half expired. That alone, would have normally have set the Colts on a path of disaster.

Instead, Andrew Luck and Co. responded big time in the final stanza after Denver scored 10 more unanswered points in the third quarter. Luck completed 7-of-10 passes in that last quarter, leading the Colts to 10 points and a much-needed win.

It was only the second game this season that Luck actually avoided turning the Ball over. With the talent Indy possesses on offense, that’s going to be enough to win a lot of games.

Doing so against the conference’s best defense could set in motion continued improvement following the Colts Week 10 bye. But for now, the team heads into mid November in first place with a 4-5 record.

New Orleans Saints proven to be pretenders

The Saints allowed a rookie quarterback returning from a two-week absence to post 371 passing yards and four touchdowns in a disastrous home loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

If that’s not reason enough to believe this team is nothing more than a pretender, consider this: Tennessee put up 483 total yards and 25 first downs in Mike Mularkey’s first game as the team’s interim head coach.

This isn’t going to end well for fans in the Bayou. Drew Brees has now thrown 10 touchdowns over the past two games. Overall, the Saints offense has racked up over 1,000 total yards and 80 points during that span — going 1-1 in the process.

Without any real capability of stopping the opposing team, the Saints season is dead in the water right now.

It matters little that the team is 4-5 and still in the thick of the playoff race. Its defense simply isn’t going to do enough to keep the rest of the squad afloat.

Antonio Brown is a freak

Brown had 306 total yards on 19 touches in the Pittsburgh Steelers three-point win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Of those 306 yards, 284 came on 17 receptions. Yeah, it was an all-time great outing for a receiver.

In fact, Brown’s performance is the ninth-best statistical outing for a receiver in the history of the league.

It was just unfair the way Brown toyed with a Raiders secondary that was without its best player, T.J. Carrie. Whenever you see the likes of David Amerson and D.J. Hayden lining up against a receiver of Brown’s abilities, it’s not going to end well for the defense.

The interesting thing here is that Brown put up more receiving yards on Sunday than he had in his previous five games. That’s a scary proposition for opposing defenses as the year progresses, even if Ben Roethlisberger misses some time with a foot injury.

Time to take the Carolina Panthers seriously as Super Bowl contender

Carolina may have let the Green Bay Packers back in the game after taking a 20-point lead into the half. However, it did find a way to pull off the win after Thomas Davis picked off Aaron Rodgers late in the fourth quarter with the game within one score. By virtue of that huge play, Carolina will enter Week 10 with a perfect 8-0 record.

As to where Carolina’s defense carried the team through the first seven games, Cam Newton showed everyone why he might have taken that next step towards elite status. The former No. 1 pick put up 355 total yards and four touchdowns en route to leading the Panthers to 37 points and 427 yards of offense.

If Carolina’s offense can perform up to this level with its defense remaining one of the top units in the NFL, there’s little doubt that the team could very well come out of the NFC. At the very least, we know that the road to the Super Bowl in the conference will likely go through Carolina.

Marcus Mariota’s stellar return from knee injury

Courtesy of Derick E. Hingle, USA Today Sports

Mariota opened up his NFL career with a four-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That was the last game his Tennessee Titans won. After missing the past two games with a sprained MCL, the reigning Heisman winner made sure to tell everyone he was back.

Going up against a horrendous Saints defense, Mariota completed 28-of-39 passes for 371 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks in an impressive 34-28 win.

More than helping Tennessee end a six-game losing streak, Mariota had somewhat of a coming-out party in this one. Sure he played well in the aforementioned game against Tampa Bay, but doing it against a Saints squad that had won four of five coming in and boasts a future Hall of Fame quarterback is a sign that nothing is going to rattle this youngster.

In his first six NFL starts, Mariota has compiled a 65.2 completion rate, 1,610 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions for a quarterback rating in the triple digits. That’s not too shabby for someone many figured would have a steep learning curve coming from a gimmicky offense at Oregon.

The Minnesota Vikings are tied for first place

By virtue of yet another ugly win and a Packers loss to Carolina, this up-and-coming team finds itself tied for first place in the NFC North with a 6-2 record.

It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Teddy Bridgewater looked completely lost out there before leaving with a concussion. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s offense converted on just 3-of-13 third-down opportunities.

In the end, Minnesota was able to pull off its third one-score win in four weeks. It has now won six of seven since a disastrous opening week loss to the lowly San Francisco 49ers. Equally as important, the Vikings find themselves tied with Green Bay for first in a division that just a couple short weeks ago it seemed the Packers had lock on.

Having already gone through their bye week, the biggest question moving forward for the Vikings will be the availability of Bridgewater, who was knocked completely out after what some concluded to be a dirty hit by Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner.

The second-year quarterback will have to pass the league’s concussion protocol in order to be a go against the Raiders in Oakland next week. That in and of itself could tell us a lot about where the Vikings are heading into what is suddenly a difficult game in Northern California.

As it is, a 6-2 record following eight games is something the Vikings would have willingly taken back in August. It’s now all about getting the passing game going on a more consistent basis. If that happens, the Packers could have some real competition in the NFC North.

Big bounce-back performance from the New York Jets

The Jets didn’t dominate a two-win Jacksonville Jaguars team. Their vaunted defense allowed 430-plus total yards of offense. More than that, New York couldn’t get anything going on the ground (29 yards on 28 attempts).

As with the Vikings above, it was an ugly win. But following two consecutive losses, Todd Bowles’ squad desperately needed to get back on track.

That’s exactly the way it’s going to read in the standings heading into Week 10, as the Jets are now 5-3 on the campaign.

With games coming up against the Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins, the Jets have a clear path to a nice little streak heading into late November.

As it stands, a narrow win against Jacksonville on Sunday keeps New York in firm position to earn a wild card spot in the AFC.

A loss, on the other hand, would have set this team back a great deal. That’s the biggest takeaway here, not how pretty/ugly the performance itself was.

The Atlanta Falcons are nowhere near as good as their 6-3 record

Courtesy of Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports

Atlanta just lost a football game to a San Francisco 49ers team that was starting Blaine Gabbert at quarterback — a team that found itself down to its fourth-string running back, had just traded its starting tight end and was playing without its top receiver. Yeah, that actually did happen.

This is Atlanta’s second consecutive loss to a squad that will likely finish in last place when the regular season draws to a conclusion. It also sets into motion a ton of different questions that will be lobbed the Falcons’ way heading into a Week 10 bye.

How in the world did the Falcons not generate a single sack against an offensive line that had yielded 28 sacks in its first seven games? Heck, Blaine Gabbert was hit a total of two times in the game.

And short of a solid interception by rookie Vic Beasley, Atlanta managed to make the league’s worst passing attack halfway decent in this one. That’s a bad sign for when this team goes up against stiffer competition moving forward.

Offensively, it was a complete mess for Atlanta. While the 49ers’ defense did play inspired football in front of its home crowd, there’s absolutely no reason for the Falcons to have struggled on the ground the way they did.

Devonta Freeman went for 12 yards on 12 attempts, as Atlanta compiled a total of 17 rushing yards — 13 less than Gabbert himself.

With games coming up against the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings following their Week 10 bye, the Falcons need to find a way to right this ship. If not, a season that started out so grand will end with nothing more than a whimper.

Injuries on top of injuries

The injuries might not have been as severe as we saw last week, but seasons could have changed on a dime during Sunday’s slate of NFL action.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a mid-foot sprain and is expected to miss a couple weeks. This comes just one week after he returned from a knee injury that saw him miss five outings earlier in the year.

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis injured his knee on a non-contact play against the Washington Redskins. While New England did come away with a semi-impressive win, the larger concern here has to be over the long-term availability of its dynamic running back.

The team is awaiting MRI results, but it doesn’t look too great right now.

As mentioned above, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater exited the team’s game against the St. Louis Rams after being knocked out. The second-year quarterback is said to be okay, but he’s going to have to pass through the concussion protocol to play next week. If not, Shaun Hill will get the start.

It doesn’t seem like Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy will find himself anywhere near 100 percent for the remainder of the season.

After dealing with an ankle injury earlier in the campaign, Lacy hurt his groin in Green Bay’s loss to the Panthers on Sunday. He did not return to the game.

It hasn’t necessarily been an abnormal season regarding injuries. Instead, it’s all about the high-profile players that have gone down for an extensive period of time.

That’s definitely going to impact the product we see on the field in the second half of the year. Sunday’s injuries didn’t help matters at all.

So long, Dallas Cowboys

Since 1970, only two teams that have lost six consecutive games have gone on to make the playoffs that season, last year’s Carolina Panthers being one of them.

Following their disheartening overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys find themselves in the position of having to buck this trend.

Unfortunately, they are now three games behind the New York Giants in the win column in the NFC East. That’s a sign that Tony Romo’s return from injury might come a bit too late.

Pending the outcome of next week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas will likely have to go 6-1 or 5-2 when Romo returns on Thanksgiving. Even then, the team is going to need some help from what has to be considered a lackluster division.

While stranger things have happened, we simply can’t put playoffs in the same sentence with a team that’s riding a six-game losing streak. Insert the Jim Mora soundbite here.

Check out Vincent’s other work on eDraft.com and follow him on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL