Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action

By Vincent Frank
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

A huge statement at home against the the undefeated.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s Week 9 NFL action started with a boom. The early slate saw the Carolina Panthers mark their territory in a win over a hapless Buccaneers squad. Meanwhile, over in the AFC, John Harbaugh’s seat in Baltimore got a tad hotter following a loss to the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

As the action turned to the late-afternoon slate, the New Orleans Saints made a huge statement at home against the then-undefeated Los Angeles Rams. And in New England, Tom Brady and Co. did big time work against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers.

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

 

Michael Thomas is just absurd

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This third-year Saints receiver entered Week 9 having caught 58-of-64 targets for 669 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. His 90.6 percent catch rate is among the most ridiculous individual stats we’ve seen in recent NFL history. Taking on an undefeated Rams team and struggling cornerback Marcus Peters, the hope was that Thomas might be able to continue his stellar play.

He didn’t disappoint in front of the home crowd in New Orleans, catching 12-of-15 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. That included this 72-yard score to ice the game after Thomas had burned the above-mentioned Peters in a big way. Now through eight games, Thomas has caught 70-of-79 targets for 880 yards. Yeah, he’s freaking legit as all get out.

 

Buccaneers are laughably bad

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Tampa Bay might have entered Sunday’s action with a 3-4 record and with an outside shot at a playoff appearance in the NFC. That was pretty much all Dirk Koetter and Co. could hang their hats on. The reality of the situation is that this team is bad. Really, really bad. That came out in droves Sunday against a red-hot Carolina Panthers team.

Pretty much immediately, the Panthers marked their territory at home against Tampa Bay. That included a disastrous interception by Ryan Fitzpatrick and some electric plays from Carolina’s offense. When all was said and done, Tampa Bay dropped the game by the score of 42-28. We now have to wonder just how much longer the Buccaneers’ brass can stick with Koetter. The lack of any real competitiveness has to be worrisome.

 

Patriots-Packers game proves coaching really does matter

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No one is going to confuse Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy with the great Bill Belichick. But the difference in coaching quality that we saw Sunday night at Gillette Stadium was more apparent than anyone could have initially imagined.

Whether it was McCarthy drawing up a quarterback sneak with an injured Aaron Rodgers on third-and-2 or this trick play from the Patriots leading to a touchdown, what we saw on the field Sunday night was glaring. It’s rather clear that McCarthy is now in over his head for the 3-4-1 Packers. Whether that leads to a coaching change following Sunday’s 31-17 loss to New England remains to be seen. But something certainly isn’t right in Green Bay.

 

Sloppy performance leads to bad loss for the Seahawks

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Down 19-10 in the fourth quarter against the Chargers on Sunday, Russell Wilson threw a rookie-level pick-six into the hands of Chargers defensive back Desmond King. It was downright atrocious. Despite this, the quarterback led his team back to within eight points and had a chance to pull within two with an untimed down in the fourth quarter. That came after a questionable pass interference call.

Following a false start by J.R. Sweezy, wide receiver David Moore dropped a pass in the end zone, leading to a narrow Seattle loss. Wilson’s interception, costly penalties and dropped passes that plagued Seattle throughout the afternoon. Now at 4-4 on the season, Seattle has to collect itself in the face of overwhelming odds in a highly competitive NFC moving forward.

 

Hue Jackson wasn’t the only problem in Cleveland

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It’s not that the Browns found a fall guy by firing Hue Jackson. He had earned those walking papers after winning just three of 40 games as head coach. Instead, it’s the somewhat ridiculous belief that Jackson was the primary problem with the long-downtrodden organization. He wasn’t. And that came out in a big way Sunday against the Chiefs.

It started with two members of the offense arguing about pass protection while Baker Mayfield was sacked. One of those players, left tackle Greg Robinson, was activated to protect the rookie’s blindside. Yeah, that wasn’t a great idea from interim head coach Gregg Williams. Meanwhile, his defense was eaten alive by what could be an historic Chiefs offense. In and of itself, this is not a huge deal. That’s until we realize the defensive-minded coach was out-schemed at pretty much every stop in the 37-21 loss. Yuck.

 

Alex Smith and the Redskins exposed

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Throughout his career, Smith has proven he’s incapable of leading his team from behind. With the exception of a handful of games, the quarterback’s success has relied on a game control offense and solid defense. Once Atlanta jumped out on top against Washington on Sunday, it became clear that the first-place NFC East team wouldn’t be able to respond.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons put up a 14-0 lead less than halfway through the second quarter. Washington was not able to get back in the game after cutting the lead in half. When all was said and done, Washington dropped this game by the score of 38-14. Adrian Peterson was a non-factor. Meanwhile, Smith led the Skins to two total touchdowns in the loss. This will be the recipe for other teams set to take on Washington as the season progresses.

 

Raiders have some company as NFL’s worst team

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There’s really no other way to go about it. The Buffalo Bills are historically bad. Heck, we’re not even sure how Sean McDermott’s squad won two games heading into Week 9’s outing against the Chicago Bears. There’s really nothing positive that came out of the 41-9 home loss to Chicago. Maybe, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky joined Bills fans in jumping on to tables following the game, because, that would be the highlight of the game.

Starting for the injured Derek Anderson and Josh Allen, second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman threw three interceptions. That included this hilarious pick-six. All said, Bills quarterbacks have now thrown three touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions en route to leading the team to an average of 10.7 points per game. Yeah, Jon Gruden and the Raiders have come company as the NFL’s laughingstock.

 

Sam Darnold’s rookie wall is real

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A solid early-season performance has now given into this rookie struggling big time for the Jets. Heading into Sunday’s outing against the division rival Dolphins, Darnold had thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions in his past three games. The team had put up 27 points over the past two games.

We understand full well that rookies at the game’s most important position will struggle. Darnold was never going to be immune to this. Unfortunately, it came out in droves against a Dolphins pass defense that has been burnt on long plays throughout the season. Darnold completed just 21-of-39 passes for 229 yards with four interceptions in the 13-6 road loss. Now at 3-6 through nine games, early-season thoughts of playoff contention have give into reality in Jersey. That starts an ends with Darnold.

 

Dalvin Cook’s return proved vital for Minnesota

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Outside of a horrible fumble in the third quarter, Cook’s return to action was a successful one for Minnesota. Having shown himself to be an injury-plagued player since entering the league last season, the Vikings needed Cook to return to form and create necessary balance for Kirk Cousins and the team’s offense. He did just that during Sunday’s win over the division-rival Detroit Lions.

Including a 70-yard run, Cook put up 109 total yards on 14 touches in the win. We’re not sure if Cook will be able to remain healthy as the season progresses. What we do know is that he adds a completely different element on offense. Sunday’s performance proved that to a T.

 

The Chargers are for real

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While Philip Rivers and Co. almost blew a late two-score lead on the road against Seattle, this team once again proved itself to be an under-the-radar contender in the AFC. Taking on a strong Seahawks defense that had forced a turnover in 20 consecutive games, Rivers played mistake-free ball. He threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns, including this toss to second-year pass catcher Mike Williams. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon went for 113 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts.

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Defensively, Los Angeles harassed Russell Wilson throughout the game. This unit got to him for four sacks and forced a pivotal pick-six in the fourth quarter in what would ultimately be a 25-17 victory. Now at 6-2 and winners of six consecutive, it’s certainly time to take these Chargers seriously.

 

Mitchell Trubisky’s Bears are no joke

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This second-year quarterback didn’t do a whole lot in Sunday’s blowout win over Buffalo. With the Bears’ defense recording two touchdowns, he really didn’t need to. After a scoreless opening stanza, Chicago ran off 28 unanswered second quarter points to put this game away before halftime.

Even without Khalil Mack in the mix, this unit got to Nathan Peterman for four sacks and forced four total turnovers. Chicago’s defense now has 21 takeaways in eight games. The four takeaways on Sunday resulted in 17 points. Yeah, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has this side of the ball playing well. And with Trubisky avoiding the dreaded turnover bug, Chicago heads into Week 10 with a shocking 5-3 record. Its last three wins have come by a combined 84 points. That’s how you take care of business, folks.

 

Chiefs defense could be a problem

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We have to nitpick a little when it comes to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. After putting up three more scores against the Browns, Mahomes now has 31 total touchdowns on the season. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt tallied 141 total yards and three scores on 18 touchdowns. That included a 50-yard catch-and-run to open the scoring. It all came together on offense in a 37-21 win over the lowly Browns.

But it’s the other side of the ball that should have head coach Andy Reid and Co. concerned. Entering Sunday’s action, Kansas City’s defense had yielded the second-most yards in the NFL and nearly 26 points per game. Taking on a Browns team with a rookie quarterback and a rookie offensive coordinator calling his first-ever game, the Chiefs gave up 26 first downs and nearly 400 total yards. That’s going to be an issue for this squad moving forward.

 

No pride in these Lions

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Matt Patricia’s squad entered Sunday’s action having won three of their past five following an 0-2 start to the season. Unfortunately, its most-recent loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks last week showed us just how far away Detroit is from contending. The trade of Golden Tate during last week’s trade deadline brought this to an entirely new level. And it showed at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday.

Matthew Stafford had no chance against a swarming Vikings defense — finding himself sacked a ridiculous 10 times in the 15-point loss. This came after he was taken down a total of 13 times over the first seven games. Despite some solid defense, that was not enough for the Lions to overcome. In what was an overall brutal performance from Stafford and the team’s offense, Detroit now finds itself at 3-5 and in last place in the NFC North.

 

Falcons are seemingly back on track

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Atlanta entered its Week 8 bye having won two in a row after a 1-4 start to the season. This pretty much saved offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s job and enabled the Falcons to remain alive in the NFC Playoff race. With Matt Ryan playing MVP-caliber at quarterback, the hope was that the rest of this team would continue to turn it around. That’s exactly what we saw Sunday in the nation’s capital against the Redskins.

The Falcons’ offense absolutely dominated one of the NFL’s best defenses to the tune of 38 points and nearly 500 yards of offense. Julio Jones caught his first touchdown of the season. Imagine that. Meanwhile, the combination of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith went for 220 total yards on 29 touches. This offense seems to be a juggernaut, and it could propel Atlanta to playoff contention moving forward on the season.

 

Is John Harbaugh really on the hot seat?

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh

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We’ve heard his name bandied about as a potential coaching casualty over the past couple seasons. That came to a head prior to Sunday’s game against the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers with report surfacing that Harbaugh could be on the outs in Baltimore. We’re not too sure if this is going to come to fruition. What we do know is that Harbaugh’s Ravens have now lost four of five after a 3-1 start to the season.

Sunday’s 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh wasn’t the ugly affair that has in the past led to a coach being fired. Instead, it was all about the Ravens just not being able to stay with a better team. Joe Flacco struggled under center. Baltimore’s defense took a step back against Ben Roethlisberger. And now, at 3-5 on the season, these Ravens are three games behind Pittsburgh in the loss column. That will lead to Harbaugh’s seat getting even hotter, especially if we’re talking about irrelevance heading into December.

 

J.J. Watt and Co. show up big time

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In a game that saw Deshaun Watson struggle through the air in the second half and the Texans not be able to get anything going on the ground, it was the team’s defense that answered the call on the road against the Denver Broncos in Week 9. Knowing they had to step up with the offense struggling, J.J. Watt and Co. recorded two sacks and seven quarterback hits of former Texans signal caller Case Keenum. Meanwhile, the Broncos were held to 75 rushing yards on 20 attempts.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. Houston’s defense allowed Denver to get into potential game-winning field goal range late in the fourth quarter, only to see Brandon McManus miss a 51-yard field goal wide right. Even then, the Texans showed their moxie in winning a sixth consecutive game in front of a harsh road crowd. Not too shabby, indeed.

 

Can we get a rematch, please?

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Certainly, the Minnesota Vikings and defending champion Philadelphia Eagles might have something to say about this. And that’s cool. Both teams will likely be heard from in the NFC when all is said and done. But for now, pretty much every objective football fan wants to see the Saints and Rams go up against one another in the playoffs this coming January.

In pretty much the most-anticipated regular season game thus far, New Orleans upended the Rams’ perfect season by the score of 45-35. It’s a game that saw Drew Brees and Jared Goff go tit-for-tat. It also included Goff leading his Rams from a 35-14 second quarter deficit to tie the game in the final stanza before the Saints did their thing. With both teams now boasting one loss on the season, we’re hoping to see a rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Because, why the heck not?