USA TODAY US Edition
Watson saves Pack; Bills are flawed
Week 10 in the NFL brought us the game of the year in an instant classic.
It also revealed that the Buffalo Bills, for all of their talent and offensive firepower, are a deeply flawed team. On the other side was a Minnesota Vikings team that continues to fly under the radar and is getting historic production at receiver from young Justin Jefferson.
A fellow NFC North team, the Green Bay Packers, snapped a five-game losing streak against a familiar face in former coach Mike McCarthy, now with the Dallas Cowboys. And the good news for Aaron Rodgers was that rookie receiver Christian Watson broke out in a huge way, injecting speed into an offense that badly needed it.
Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s Week 10 action.
WINNERS The best receiver in football plays on the most underrated team
Justin Jefferson of the Vikings dominated a game – and a fourth quarter – more than any other receiver has in a single game in recent memory. This was a Bills defense that entered Sunday ranked seventh in the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up an average of 194.8 per game. Jefferson (10 receptions for 193 yards with one touchdown) nearly surpassed that on his own.
The Vikings (8-1) may not be the most dominant team; they have won seven in a row and have had to stage comebacks in five of those. But with his ability to haul in contested catches, Jefferson gives the Vikings a game-changing weapon who is seemingly setting NFL records with each passing week. The Vikings still do have areas to clean up; the defense entered Sunday ranked dead last in red-zone efficiency, and at some point it will become unsustainable to fall into early holes.
Thanks to Christian Watson, Packers’ season saved ... for now
Let’s be clear: Green Bay’s victory – which snapped the longest losing streak the team has had in 14 seasons – didn’t fix all the 4-6 Packers’ problems. But the emergence of rookie receiver Christian Watson showed how proficient the offense can be when there’s a speed weapon at receiver.
All of Watson’s TDs came when the Cowboys were in man coverage and the scoring plays went for 58, 39 and 7 yards. Watson (107 yards on four receptions) had previously struggled to get open and dropped passes, so his breakout is a promising sign. It’s also not a coincidence that running back Aaron Jones posted his second-best rushing total of the season (138 yards on 24 carries with one score), given that Green Bay leaned on the rushing game to open up downfield passes. Now it’s time to work on an offensive line that often yields too much pressure and a secondary that’s susceptible to big plays.
More than just Derrick Henry
The Titans have won six of their last
seven games mostly because of redzone efficiency and a sound rushing attack. But Tennessee (6-3) showed, after it ran for a season-low 63 yards, it can win in multiple ways. Against Denver, it was a ferocious pass rush that sacked Russell Wilson six times and delivered a staggering 18 quarterback hits.
That the Titans did this with two starters on the defensive front (Jeffrey Simmons and Bud Dupree) sidelined certifies the pass rush as a Tennessee staple. What truly makes the defense so difficult to face is that Tennessee is generating all this pressure despite ranking sixth lowest in the NFL in blitz rate. Against Denver, the Broncos did not run a single play inside the red zone. This is what gives the Titans a blueprint to win in the postseason, even with an offense that has failed to eclipse 24 points in a game all season.
By all accounts, the vibe in Munich for the lead-up to the Buccaneers-Seahawks game, and in Allianz Arena for the 21-16 Tampa Bay (5-5) win, was electric. The game made history, becoming the first regular-season NFL game in Germany. It was the first of at least three more that will take place in the country through 2025. The market for American football in Germany has been steadily growing, actually overtaking the United Kingdom as the top one in Europe.
The crowd stayed and chanted well after the final whistle. It serenaded players with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It elevated the viewing experience on TV. Take it from Tom Brady, who said after the game in his press conference: “That was one of the great football experiences I’ve ever had.”
Bills are a magical, high-scoring, deeply flawed team
Buffalo is as talented as any team in
the NFL. It also inexplicably neglects its rushing attack late in games, gets needlessly careless with the football, asks far too much from its star quarterback and often forgoes the safe play, lured instead by kill shots down the field.
The Bills (6-3) blew a 17-point lead in an epic loss to the Vikings, dropping them from the AFC’s No. 2 seed to the No. 6 slot.
A fourth-quarter sequence exemplified Buffalo’s issues.
It faced a 3rd-and-2 from Minnesota’s 7, holding a 10-point lead. The rushing offense had showed promise in the first half, yet Buffalo called two passes, the first of which was spiked incomplete because the play never developed. The second was a fourth-down interception in the end zone. Minnesota turned the turnover into a TD and a nine-point swing (because the Vikings missed the extra point) and Allen has now thrown four red-zone interceptions in the last two weeks.
Injuries getting to be too much for the Chargers
The Chargers have alternated between victories and losses over their last four games, and that’s no surprise. Sunday night against the 49ers, Los Angeles was again without four of its top five receivers and also missed star edge rusher Joey Bosa.
The worst news is that all those injuries don’t account for the season-ending ones like corner J.C. Jackson and left tackle Rashawn Slater.
That has led to the Chargers starting games out slowly. LA scored seven points in the first quarter, snapping a three-game streak in which it had been shut out in the first period.
The Chargers (5-4) have dropped out of the playoff picture, letting the Patriots (5-4) slide into the No. 7 seed in the AFC for the time being.
And even worse for the Chargers, three of the next five games are against the Chiefs (7-2; No. 1 in the AFC), Dolphins (7-3; No. 2) and Titans (6-3; No. 3).
Post-Sean Payton Saints hit lowest point in 15 seasons
This team, to be fair, has faced dismal injury luck.
But after a loss to the Steelers, the Saints need to confront a bleak future that holds an aging roster, a tenuous salary cap situation that has been a can kicked down the road for several years and no clear direction at quarterback. Making matters worse, New Orleans (3-7) doesn’t have a first-round draft pick in 2023 and doesn’t have its second-rounder in 2024.
Coach Dennis Allen’s decision to stick with Andy Dalton (17 of 27 passing for 174 yards with one TD versus two interceptions) deserves criticism. But that’s merely one issue. New Orleans is ranked last in turnover margin (-12) and giveaways (19). In the 15 seasons Payton coached, he went under .500 just five times and each of those were 7-9 campaigns. Not only are the Saints headed for a losing season, they may be headed for a series of them.
Raiders drop indefensible game
Just because Jeff Saturday won his first game as the interim coach of the Colts doesn’t mean the franchise struck gold in his unconventional hiring. The sample size is too small. Still, it’s indefensible that the Raiders (2-7) lost at home to this Indianapolis squad, given all the transition and turmoil it faced.
Consider everything Saturday had to do over the course of the week. He had to appoint an offensive play caller. He had to get veteran players who had undoubtedly been following the conversation surrounding his hiring to buy in. He had to do the same with a coaching staff full of football lifers. Yes, the Raiders were down two of their best offensive weapons in receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller, but coach Josh McDaniels was hired in part because of his reputation for crafting exhaustive game plans that exploit opposing defensive weaknesses.