NFL Week Six Round-Up

A comprehensive look back at all of Sunday's action.

The game of the day in the NFL turned into the game of the season as New England held off a furious Kansas City rally to win 43-40 on a last second field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. The contest had twisted this way and that with the Patriots looking for all the world like the team that had won five Super Bowls in 17 years as they led 24-9 at the half.

Yet time and again the Chiefs came back under second year passer Patrick Mahomes who threw four touchdown passes including a 67 yarder to Kareem Hunt and 75 yarder to Tyreek Hill. The 23 year old son of former MLB pitcher showed why he’s the most likely candidate to take over the mantle of league’s best quarterback from Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Like a classic heavyweight fight of the 1970’s it was a case of last man standing as neither defense looked capable of stopping the opposing offense and so it proved as one way, then the other the momentum swung. Brady rolled back the years against the young pretender as the pair combining for 692 passing yards, and it was the 41-year-old who had the last laugh, driving the Patriots 65 yards down the field in seven plays with time running out, connecting on a critical 39-yard strike to All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski to set up the game winning kick. Although both teams look vulnerable defensively, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which these two don’t face each other again in the AFC Championship game in late January. Ominously for the rest of the NFL the Patriots, who stumbled out of the blocks at the start of the season look as dominant as in previous years and athe well-publicised off-field issues between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have yet to materialise when it matters most: on the field.

There was another candidate for game of the season a few hours earlier in Miami Gardens as the Dolphins beat the Bears in overtime thanks to a tremendous performance from back-up QB Brock Osweiler who stepped in to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill. Osweiler, who signed a 4-year $72-million-dollar contract with Houston just over two years ago before being traded after 14 inauspicious starts, brought the Dolphins from the dead on back to back touchdown passes of 43 and 75 yards to Albert Wilson. The latter was a beautiful weaving run by the free agent pick-up from Kansas City who ran through the Bears like Barry Sanders. Somewhat ironic for the man who turned up to the stadium wearing Sanders’s number 20 jersey.

The game seemed to be going Miami’s way in overtime as they drove to the Chicago one yard line only for running back Kenyan Drake to fumble and Akiem Hicks to recover in the endzone. Chicago ball. The Bears then moved the ball into Dolphin territory knowing a field goal would win it, to set up Cody Parkey – who was the Dolphins kicker in 2017 – for a 52 yarder to win it. But he pushed it wide right, leaving Miami with 75 seconds in the extra period to put the ball in range for Parkey's replacement, Jason Sanders. They duly obliged and the rookie from New Mexico State split the uprights from 47 yards. Dolphins win.

 There was late drama in Cincinnati as well as Pittsburgh came from behind to beat the Bengals on a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with just ten seconds left. It looked like Marvin Lewis’s team had done enough when Joe Mixon scored to go up 21-20. But the veteran Steelers passer had a minute eighteen left and all three timeouts to engineer the 39th game winning drive of his career, hitting Brown on a 31-yard strike to win it, marking the sixth straight time Pittsburgh have won in Paul Brown Stadium. “Insanity,” said Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap after the game. “Insanity is an act when you do something repeatedly over and over and expect different results. You figure it out.” The win moved Pitt to 3-2-1 for the season heading into their bye week in which it’s expected that superstar running back Le’Veon Bell will return after holding out for a new contract. Whether Bell plays much given the outstanding performances of his replacement, James Connor remains to be seen.

The game also saw one of the catches of the season as JuJu Smith-Schuster made this grab in the first half:

There was a statement game at 'JerryWorld' for the Cowboys as they beat down the Jaguars the way Khabib beat down guest of honour Conor McGregor. Dallas bludgeoned Jacksonville from first gun to last behind 106 yards rushing from Ezekial Elliott and the sort of proficient offensive performance they’ve been lacking all season from quarterback Dak Prescott. The Jaguars, a trendy AFC Super Bowl pick at the start of the season don’t seem close to the same team they were a year ago when they lost in the Conference Championship game in New England. Part of the issue seems to be that teams are gameplanning better for a defense that was so dominant a year ago. The performance was so bad that it led one Jags blogger to write this after they’d given up another touchdown: “The Cowboys score again from Prescott to Beasley as Barry Church tries to wheel the chair he appears to be playing in over to the zone Beasley just ran into.” Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey who had an awful lot to say in the off-season about the lack of talented wide receivers and quarterbacks in the NFL, had marhinally less to say in the lockeroom afterwards:

The injury to bell-cow running back Leonard Fournette - whose hamstring problems forced him to miss a third straight game – is clearly an issue. But the main reason for their 3-3 record is the abject inconsistency of quarterback Blake Bortles who’s playing down to the 3 year $54-million-dollar contract he signed in the summer.

As for the aforementioned McGregor, he was getting the crowd excited pre-game and handing out whiskey from owner Jerry Jones's box during the game. He also attempted a throw which, like his performance last weekend, left something to be desired.

THIS AND THAT

If your name is Nathan Peterman and you live in Buffalo, then I’d heartily consider moving. The Bills back-up passer was given the chance to start last season and promptly threw five interceptions. In the first half. Unsurprisingly he was benched. Remarkably, he was chosen to start the season but threw two more picks in the first game and was sent back to the bench for rookie first rounder Josh Allen. But when Allen was injured in the third quarter, Peterman once again trotted out into the arena. He tied the game up with a 16-yard touchdown to Zay Jones, but with less than a minute and a half remaining he was intercepted by Jonathan Joseph who returned it for the game winning touchdown. The Bills, on the brink of overtime against a team they had no real business beating, take another gut punch. Peterman is a nice guy and a hard worker, but he’s also a terrible quarterback. The fact that Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed when Peterman has work is a damning indictment of the NFL.

Washington have to be one of the most up and down teams in the NFL this season. Ugly defeats to Indianapolis and New Orleans sandwiched a dominating win against Green Bay in week 3. On Sunday they were winners again, doing just enough to beat the fancied Panthers. Everything had gone wrong in New Orleans last Monday, especially on defense. The most heavily criticised player was star CB Josh Norman who was repeatedly burned on the field, then benched for wearing headphones during Gruden’s halftime talk, before finally having his dignity stolen on Twitter by the man he'd struggled to cover all night, Saints WR Michael Thomas. But Norman and his teammates bounced back in style, forcing three turnovers including an interception and a forced fumble from the veteran corner.......The Los Angeles Rams bandwagon rolled on with a victory in Denver. Snow covered the field at Mile High before kick-off, but the cold weather had no effect on Todd Gurley. The defending NFL Offensive Player of the Year ran for a career high 208 yards and two touchdowns as LA held off a late Broncos rally to win 23-20. Denver, who fall to 2-4 are at something of a crossroads. They signed career back-up Case Keenum to a large contract in the spring after what was a terrific - but anomalous - 2017 campaign in Minnesota in which he threw for 3,547 yards in relief of injured starter Sam Bradford. But he’s struggled all season and the calls for back-up Chad Kelly are growing louder. In fact Kelly, who won the JUCO National Championship with Last Chance U’s East Mississippi the year before the Netflix cameras showed up in Scooba, replaced Keenum for a play and was roundly cheered by the crowd at Sports Authority Field...... Last week the Raiders head coach Jon Gruden announced he didn’t want to come to London because of his fear of flying. “I get claustrophobic," he told reporters. "My son was a weightlifter and he won a powerlifting competition in Belarus. I had to fly 14 hours. I had to fly home 14 hours. I had vertigo for a month. I couldn’t even lay down; the house was spinning. I'm hoping I don’t get vertigo. I’m not a great traveller. I’ll be honest with you, I hate it. I’m not good. I’m concerned. I’m more worried about that than our goal-line offense right now.” After being whacked 27-3 by Seattle at Wembley I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t bothered getting on the plane at all. The Raiders were woeful in London's rain and fall to 1-5. Worse still, Gruden, one of the modern era’s great innovators looks well behind the curve after a decade away from the sideline in the ABC commentary box.

The New York Jets have quietly moved to 3-3 on the season after they beat the Colts 42-34 at MetLife Stadium. It was their second straight victory, giving them their first winning streak in a full calendar year. And they did so on the arm of 3rd overall pick Sam Darnold who, one ugly interception aside, was terrific, going 24 of 30 for 280 yards and two scores. They also got 21 points from kicker Jason Myers who set a team record for most field goals in a game.

I led this column last week with the resurgent Browns and a bold statement about how they could be unbeaten were it not for bad kicking and worse luck. Emboldened by my praise they laid an almighty egg against the Chargers. At one stage they trailed 35-6 before finally going down 38-14. First overall pick Baker Mayfield struggled all day as he was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and couldn’t get anything going, often looking indecisive in the pocket. Conversely, Melvin Gordon who’s becoming one of the best players in football dominated the vaunted Cleveland defense, rushing for 132 yards and three touchdowns as the receiver depleted Browns fell to 2-3-1 on the season.

The Chargers head to London at 4-2, a game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West....... Perhaps the surprise of the day came in Nashville as the hometown Titans failed to muster a single point in an offensive horror show against Baltimore. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked 11 times, a new Raven single game record. "One of the worst performances you’ll ever see,” wrote one Tennessee columnist. The Titans play the Chargers at Wembley on Sunday and if they repeat this performance then Philip Rivers and his men could run up 60 points. There was one worrying moment in the game for Baltimore as left guard Alex Lewis was stretchered off the field in the fourth quarter after what looked liked a serious head injury sustained as he was run blocking. The former Nebraska star was motionless for a number of minutes as doctors worked to stabilise him. However, after undergoing a CT scan and rigorous tests at a nearby hospital he was allowed to fly home....... The Falcons got a much-needed victory as they tried desperately to get their season back on track after a dreadful start in which they fell to 1-4 on the back of close defeats and critical injuries to key players. They nearly conspired to lose this one too as the Bucs roared back on the arm of Jameis Winston. The game came down to the final play when Winston scrambled, then laterelled the ball to back-up receiver Adam Humphrie who laterelled to Mike Evans. Evans then tossed it backwards to his receiving mate Deshaun Jackson who looked to have the angle to get in for the game winner, but the veteran dropped the pitch and the ball rolled helplessly out of bounds.

Falcons players attributed the win to a very heated week of practice in which a number of fights almost broke out as frusstration boiled over. “We got into it a little bit and it got chippy,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “I would’t necessarily say chippy, but there was a definite sense of urgency,” added linebacker DeVondre Campbell. Perhaps they’d beneft from a visit from Conor McGregor.

Perhaps not.

The Arizona Cardinals returned to losing ways as they were beaten by Minnesota. American sport is often criticised for the over the top element that makes it such a spectacle but frankly it’s no surprise the Vikings won given the speech QB Kurt Cousins made before kick-off.

Amidst rumours that the Cards were looking to trade superstar cornerback Patrick Peterson – later vehemently denied by head coach Steve Wilkes – it was hardly the most comfortable setting for rookie passer Josh Rosen. But the young QB showed more than enough to underline why Arizona’s future is bright and he kept this competitive against one of the best teams in football. In fact when Budda Baker returned Cousin’s fumble for a touchdown, it looked as though an upset could be on the table. But the Vikings came out firing in the second half as star receiver Adam Thielen and running back Latavius Murray answered the call. Thielen had his sixth straight 100-yard game, just one shy of the NFL record set by Charley Hennigen in 1961. Murray, standing in for the injured Dalvin Cook ran for a career high 155 yards.

  • Monday Night Football

    There's very few bankers in the modern NFL but this is one: the Green Bay Packers will beat the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. Why? Despite a myriad of injuries and offensive struggles, the Pack will have more than enough to overcome a 49er team who are without $137.5 million dollar QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Look for Aaron Rodgers to take out some frustrations on a young Niner secondary and for the Pack to move to 3-2-1 on the season.

    Prediction: Green Bay 30-13 San Francisco