Several of Sunday's games from Week 10 showed that some teams are getting ready for the postseason while others should start thinking about the draft. Here are some of our big takeaways from today:
» On paper, Pittsburgh is hot and in charge of the conference, but we should be wary before crowning them as the AFC's cream.
» If the Jets fashioned themselves as a playoff contender before Sunday, they can probably forget it now.
- The Jaguars are a team of extremes. Luckily, their defense is extremely good and they made all the big plays late in the game from defensive tackle Malik Jackson's forced fumble late in regulation to A.J. Bouye's interception in overtime to put away one of the wildest games of the season. On a day when their offense wasn't doing much, Jacksonville's special teams scored a touchdown on a fake punt and the defense only allowed three points on the Chargers' final nine drives to salt the game away.
- After rolling up franchise-record breaking yardage over the last two games without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars struggled to move the ball with him. The Jaguars offense finally turned the game around when they let Blake Bortles throw it eleven straight times on a third quarter touchdown drive, although they may have fallen in love with the pass too much. After playing great for three quarters, Bortles had an absolutely disastrous final frame, completing 2-of-13 passes during one stretch with two interceptions and a potential pick-six that was dropped. The Jaguars defense saved him.
- It was fascinating to see that Fournette and the Chargers' Melvin Gordon both watched from the sidelines during most of the key moments late in the game. Fournette was held to 33 yards on 17 carries and the Jaguars don't trust him as much as Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon on passing downs. Gordon had only 27 yards rushing on 16 carries and took a seat for Austin Ekeler, who had a career game with 119 yards from scrimmage and two scores before ruining it all with a fumble with under two minutes remaining. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn tried to play everything as conservative as possible and his team still imploded. By the time the Jaguars won the game on a field goal that was blocked in overtime, the Chargers had somehow found a new and painful way to lose another game on special teams.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- Teddy Bridgewater was active for the first time in 672 days. The quarterback got to watch the Case Keenum show early. Keenum dive-bombed the Redskins secondary throughout the first half, hitting Stefon Diggs for a 51-yard strike and two 38-yarders to Adam Thielen. The Vikings QB ended the half with a perfect passer rating (158.3), 13.4 yards per attempt on 14 passes and three touchdowns. Minnesota took control of the game late in the second quarter and early in the third. After Washington snagged a 17-14 lead with under five minutes left in the first half, Keenum threw three TDs on three straight possessions. The Redskins ran two plays (an INT and end-of-half-kneel) in that span. Keenum cooled off as the game wore on, tossing two interceptions that kept the Redskins in the game. He finished 21-of-29 passing for 304 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt, four touchdown passes and two picks. Keenum continues to prove he can be a serviceable quarterback when surrounded by talent.
- Speaking of that talent: Adam Thielen tortured the Redskins' secondary, burning them deep and with runs after the catch. The wideout earned receptions of 49, 38, 38 and 17 yards, finishing with eight receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown. The shifty receiver runs pristine routes that get him wide open wherever he lines up in the formation. His in-cut on a beautiful touchdown dart from Keenum crossed up Josh Norman. Thielen wasn't the only one to burn Norman. Diggs torched the Pro Bowler on the first drive and ran away from the corner on a big catch-and-jaunt later. With Thielen and Diggs, the top receiver duo in the NFL, consistently getting wide open, Keenum's job becomes easier.
- Kirk Cousins carried his team once again against a good defense and almost pulled off another comeback. The Redskins have no semblance of a running game (Rob Kelley once again got injured early), putting everything on Cousins' shoulders. The quarterback got solid protection from an offensive line that finally got healthy and diced up a good secondary. Cousins tossed 45 passes, completing 26 for 327 yards, one touchdown and one interception and tallying two rushing scores to keep the game close.
Whereas Keenum is playing with studly receivers, Cousins isn't getting similar help from his pass-catchers. With Jordan Reed out, Vernon Davis was again the go-to target as the Redskins attempted to come back (7 catches for 76 yards). Jamison Crowder had a big catch-and-run, but Josh Doctson was mostly quiet. Cousins' pick turned the tide of the game, but the loss wasn't on the quarterback, who did his best to keep the game within reach.
-- Kevin Patra
- For all of the passing records Drew Brees has shattered in the cozy indoor confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Sean Payton's Super Bowl formula has long been a strong running game complemented by a swarming, opportunistic defense that allows the Saints to succeed in the harsh elements outside of their dome-field advantage. Easily establishing a rhythm while taking advantage of Payton's brilliant play-calling, Brees is orchestrating an unstoppable, all-weather attack that features a stout offensive line, a dynamic backfield duo, a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Michael Thomas, an electric game-breaker in Ted Ginn and a physical big-play threat in Brandon Coleman. The Saints appear to be on an NFC collision course with the Eagles, their challenger as the most balanced team in the league.
- We won't see a more lopsided contest all season, as New Orleans marched through Buffalo like General Sherman to Savannah. Consistently reaching the second level of the defense behind a dominant blocking unit, well-rounded power back Mark Ingram and electric rookie Alvin Kamara became the first pair of Saints to clear the century mark in rushing yards since Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister accomplished the feat in 2006. At one point in the second half, Payton called 24 consecutive run plays, imposing his will en route to a season-high 298 rushing yards. That mark fell just nine shy of the single-game franchise record. Since the ill-fitted Adrian Peterson was jettisoned last month, Ingram leads the NFL with seven touchdowns while Kamara has been everything that more ballyhooed division rival Christian McCaffrey was hyped to be as a versatile pass-catching threat and elusive, tackle-shedding runner. Together, Kamara and Ingram are on pace for 2,940 yards from scrimmage, nearly 500 more than the total recorded by Atlanta's talented duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in last year's Super Bowl campaign.
- In consecutive blowout losses to New York and New Orleans, the Bills have been exposed as well-coached overachievers with a shallow roster. Since trading defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville, Sean McDermott's defense has hemorrhaged 194 rushing yards to the Jets last week in addition to the historic output from the Saints on Sunday. Even in a down year for the AFC, Buffalo is far from a lock to slide into a wild-card slot.
-- Chris Wesseling
- After stamping Green Bay on Monday night, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for just 57 yards in the first half against a Browns defense that fought hard out of the gate. Detroit's air game came to life down the stretch, though, with a trio of touchdown drives powered by a brilliant 50-yard grab by Kenny Golladay; Stafford's gorgeous, 31-yard scoring strike to Eric Ebron; and Golden Tate's lightning-quick, 40-yard catch-and-run to bury the Browns for good. Stafford gained patience and moxie as the game crept along and wound up lashing the Browns for 249 yards and three scores with connections to eight different targets.
- Cleveland soared early as DeShone Kizer pegged Sammy Coates for 38 yards on the team's first offensive snap before the Browns passer returned one drive later to hit Kenny Britt for a 19-yard touchdown. Mistakes killed Cleveland, though, as tight end Seth DeValve fumbled a catch that Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson took 44 yards to the house to put Detroit up 17-10. Then, with no timeouts and 15 seconds left in the first half, Kizer failed to score on a sneak. With Lions players draped all over the Browns rookie -- I thought the defense should have been flagged for delay of game -- the half ticked away. Why run the ball there? Awful play call. This was Kizer's cleanest performance, but he also left the game with a rib injury for most of the second half before returning to throw a game-sealing pick with 1:19 left on the clock.
-- Marc Sessler
- For the second week in a row, the Broncos (3-6) allowed 40-plus points in a loss. This time, though, much of the blame doesn't fall on the shoulders of their defense, but their special teams, which was downright abysmal and single-handedly determined the outcome of the game.
First, Denver's Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt after the game's opening possession. Then, New England's Dion Lewis returned a kick for a touchdown. And then, the Patriots blocked a Broncos punt. And as if things couldn't possibly get worse, the Broncos were caught making a late substitution, turning a fourth-and-5 into a fresh set of downs for the Patriots (7-2). The two early mistakes were enough to sink a team -- they accounted for two touchdowns, putting the Broncos in an early hole -- but the additional miscues just piled onto what has quickly become an ugly season for a fading Broncos team. Worst of all, the issues (which accounted for 24 of New England's points) reflect rather poorly upon a coaching staff, which isn't the best for a first-year coach in Vance Joseph. If one asked a question of who's taking the fall for this, all signs point to special teams coach Brock Olivo.
- Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Butler went back and forth, and though New England won the war, Sanders won the battle. The slot receiver caught six passes for 137 yards, and made Butler work extremely hard to cover him. While Sanders was kept out of the end zone, he is clearly Denver's best option and makes the Broncos' offense respectable. His presence on the field allowed Osweiler to work into some semblance of a rhythm and helped Denver's offense develop a balance (C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker combined to rush for 112 yards on 25 carries) that it has lacked in the last month-plus. Unfortunately for the Broncos, this remains a team that lacks options outside of the aforementioned and Demaryius Thomas, who caught five passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. Even on Thomas' touchdown, Butler was flagged for holding Sanders after the receiver gained an advantage while he was running toward the opposite side of the field. The route cleared space for Thomas in the middle, resulting in the touchdown.
- Interesting note on Lewis, who is the embodiment of why New England is consistently near the top of the league. TO THE RESEARCH NOTES!!
Rex Burkhead made quick work off a hobbled Todd Davis, running crisp routes that freed him up for targets on a few occasions, including one for a touchdown. James White caught a touchdown pass. No matter where you focus on New England's roster, the Patriots pull out another player who ends up making an impact.
-- Nick Shook
- The Steelers narrowly avoided their annual loss to an unworthy opponent, thanks to a resurgent second-half performance from their front seven and from their sleepy passing game. Down 17-9 in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh's pressure forced Jacoby Brissett to throw an ill-advised screen pass in Colts territory, which Ryan Shazier somehow intercepted. Pittsburgh turned that pick into points and sacked Brissett twice on the next drive. On the Steelers' final drive, Ben Roethlisberger (236 yards) connected with Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown on consecutive long receptions, the last of which, a 32-yard catch-and-run from Brown -- his first and only catch of the second half -- put the Steelers in the red zone. Chris Boswell avenged his previous fourth-quarter miss, banging home a 33-yarder to move Pittsburgh atop the AFC with a 7-2 record.
Ever since their blowout loss to Jacksonville, the Steelers have won four in a row, including three on the road. On paper, Pittsburgh is hot and in charge of the conference, but we should be wary before crowning them as the AFC's cream. Two of Pittsburgh's top defensive backs, Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell, both exited with injuries. The Steelers' ground game was absent and irrelevant for the second straight game (2.9 YPC), forcing Big Ben to shoulder the load. These are not healthy trends.
- All hail Jacoby Brissett. In his second year in the league, and his first in Indianapolis, Brissett has already accomplished something in a Colts uniform that neither Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck ever did. With his two long touchdown passes on Sunday, Brissett became the first Colts QB to throw four TDs of at least 60 yards since Johnny Unitas in 1966. Filling in for Luck, Brissett (222 yards) has developed into a star in the making, showcasing a fast and accurate deep ball and smart mobility in the pocket. His fourth-quarter pick was inexcusable, but it was the product of unrelenting pressure from Stephon Tuitt and Bud Dupree. As Luck galivants around Europe looking for a magical cure to his shoulder ailments, perhaps Indy should consider a future with Brissett under center full-time. You know, just in case.
- Bryant returned to the Pittsburgh wide receiver room after his Week 8 benching, but JuJu Smith-Schuster still dominated his targets. The rookie continued his stellar mid-season surge, hauling in five catches on seven targets for 97 yards; JuJu was Big Ben's main fixation on Pittsburgh's eight-play game-saving TD drive in the third. Bryant, on the other hand, was Roethlisberger's target on his first play from scrimmage, a intercepted deep ball that Big Ben overthrew or Bryant misplayed. The two were not on the same page until Bryant's clutch fourth-quarter third-down conversion. If the Steelers were smart, they wouldn't force the issue with or the ball to Bryant. From now on, JuJu is WR2, and that's that.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- This Cowboys team is a shell of itself when it's missing Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. That much was evident from the beginning in how often Dak Prescott was pressured, and it became even more obvious when the Cowboys found themselves trailing and forced to throw. Adrian Clayborn absolutely dominated Chaz Green in pass-rushing scenarios, utilizing speed rushes, bull rushes, spins and rips to rack up six sacks and a forced fumble. Instead of being an offense that can move the chains when it needs to and will grind out long touchdown drives on the back of Elliott, it became one featuring Prescott throwing for his life. On Sunday, that wasn't enough to beat a Falcons team that played inspired football for 60 minutes.
- For some perspective, Clayborn recorded 7.5 sacks combined between 2015-2016, had two entering today's game and hadn't cracked six in a season since his rookie campaign of 2011, when he was with Tampa Bay. His performance was statistically fantastic and even better on tape, but shouldn't be expected frequently. After the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones droned on about the "wide nine" alignment Atlanta employed with Clayborn (and others), but the alignment wasn't the key to his success. It was more about the inadequacy of Dallas' left tackles, with most of the focus being on Green, who was benched in the fourth quarter.
- Dallas is going to have to figure out how to reinvent itself without Elliott, who is currently serving a six-game suspension. A slog of a first half became an uphill climb for the Cowboys in the second half, and an inability to run the ball effectively only further inhibited Dallas' chances to mount a comeback. Alfred Morris is a competent runner, but he's no Elliott. Of his 53 yards (on 11 carries), 20 came on one run. Prescott finished second for the team in rushing with 42 yards on six carries. The Cowboys miss Elliott more than even we thought they would.
-- Nick Shook
- After pasting the Giants for 51 points a week ago, the high-flying Rams (7-2) authored a Jeff Fisher revival act for two-plus quarters before surging signal-caller Jared Goff hit Robert Woods on a 94-yard scoring strike, flipping the switch on a monster eight-catch, 171-yard, two-touchdown day for the former Buffalo wideout against the spiraling Texans (3-6). Picking up steam as the affair went on, Goff found another ex-Bill, Sammy Watkins, for a score and finished with a whopping 355 yards passing to help the Rams cross the 27-point barrier for the seventh time this season. Next week's Rams-Vikings showdown looms as a doozy.
- This Texans offense has one foot in the grave with Tom Savage under center. The less-than-pristine passer helped his team on a 78-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter before throwing a killer red-zone interception before the half. Savage was lucky Trumaine Johnson couldn't hold onto a would-be pick-six early on before an actual pick-six by Alec Ogletree was reversed by penalty. Savage could have had another deep shot taken away -- and ultimately tossed a grisly late-game interception -- while offering none of the play-extending magic or downfield vision we saw from rookie Deshaun Watson. By the time Savage was strip-sacked deep in Houston territory late in the third, this game was dangerously over.
- It's lost in defeat, but Jadeveon Clowney put on a show, piling up a sack, three tackles for loss and applying all sorts of pressure before the floor fell out. On the flip side, this was another big-time performance from a well-coached Wade Phillips cadre that saw Aaron Donald impose his will and Ogletree register a powerful performance even with that pick six snatched away by the zebras.
-- Marc Sessler
- This was a game in which both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown played very much like the career journeymen that they are. The result was some uninspired offense on both sides. Let's give some credit to a Bucs defense, which entered Sunday with just eight sacks all season but took down McCown six times in a dominant effort. The Bucs thrived in the trenches, battering McCown and rendering Bilal Powell (starting in place of an injured Matt Forte) invisible. Lavonte David led the way as usual, with a game-high seven tackles (including two for a loss) and a fumble recovery.
- This was a sweet victory for Fitzpatrick, who ended his two-year tenure with the Jets on somewhat sour terms. He hardly carved up his old team, but Fitzpatrick got the ball out of his hand quickly -- as is the norm for him -- and limited his mistakes. He threw one bad interception in Jets territory and had another pick waved off by a defensive holding call. Bottom line: The Bucs needed a win to keep their season on life support, and Fitzpatrick was good enough in place of Jameis Winston.
- If the Jets fashioned themselves as a playoff contender before Sunday, they can probably forget it now. At 4-6 with an unforgiving schedule ahead, New York simply could not afford to lay an egg against a Bucs team riding a five-game losing streak and without Winston (injured) and Mike Evans (suspension). Such is existence for an eternally frustrating franchise. McCown has exceeded expectations this season, but you have to wonder how much longer he'll remain the starter as the Jets begin to look ahead to next year and beyond.
-- Dan Hanzus
- With Jimmy G waiting in the wings, C.J. Beathard had the greatest game of his young career. In his fourth start, Beathard completed a career-high 76 percent of his passes and was responsible for three touchdowns. The rookie was rewarded with his first career win, the Niners' first of the season and San Francisco's first victory of the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch era. To be fair, Beathard should write a thank-you letter to and/or purchase dinner for his offensive linemen after the unit held the Giants' front seven to just two QB hits and zero sacks, a marked improvement over the 14 sacks it had allowed over the past three weeks. When San Francisco returns from next week's bye, Beathard might as well be an afterthought, with Garoppolo likely inheriting the starting role for the foreseeable future. But he'll always have this game and this tape.
- Aiding Beathard on the afternoon was the return of San Francisco's running game, which finally got off the schneid with only its second 100-plus yard day in the last eight weeks. Behind Carlos Hyde (98 yards) and rookie Matt Breida (55 yards), the Niners ran at a 5.6 YPC clip, keeping drives alive and creating short down-and-distances for Beathard. Hyde's best game since Week 2 propelled the Niners to 198 yards on the ground, their most since Week 14 of 2016. If the Niners are to develop a winning formula in the back half of this season -- against four playoff contenders in their final six games -- they'll need a strong run game with clock-killing ability. Hopefully for the new regime, Sunday's production was a sign of things to come.
- By the week, it is getting harder and harder to make the case that Ben McAdoo has not lost this Giants team. New York's defense put up its second consecutive listless performance against an NFC West foe, but this time, Big Blue got gashed by one of the league's worst offenses with a rookie quarterback under center and without a bona fide wide receiver. The effort displayed by troublesome cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple was suspect to say the least. Jenkins was caught looking silly and lifeless on both of Beathard's long TD passes. On the QB's TD run toward Apple's side of the field, you couldn't even find the second-year corner in-bounds. With Giants owner John Mara watching critically from on high in Santa Clara, and disciplinary options exhausted in the secondary, it's fair to wonder whether McAdoo's job is safe this week, or if the coach will even survive the cross-country flight home.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Marcus Mariota led the Tennessee Titans to its fourth consecutive victory Sunday after a close duel with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals captured the lead late in the fourth -- after trailing the entire game -- with an A.J. Green touchdown. Mariota, Mr. Clutch, answered back with a well-executed drive (12 plays, 73 yards) with minutes remaining in the game. The Titans opened the tilt with a well-balanced attack and use of misdirection, and even mixed in Adoree' Jackson for a few carries on offense. DeMarco Murray totaled 42 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns; Derrick Henry ended the day with 52 yards on 11 carries. Sunday's tilt featured the reemergence of Delanie Walker who previously battled a nagging ankle injury. Before suffering an apparent injury, Walker had 6 catches for 63 yards.
- The Cincinnati Bengals defense lost two key players early. Vontaze Burfict was ejected during the second quarter after making contact with an official. The penalty came two plays after Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness following a short run by Murray. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones also exited the game after sustaining a concussion. A battered defense losing two of its stars early couldn't stave of the "exotic smashmouth" Titans' offense.
- Bengals receiver A.J. Green amassed 115 yards on five catches -- one week after being ejected for an on-field scuffle during the team's matchup with Jacksonville. Prior to today, Green had fewer than 50 yards in each of the last three games. Today's numbers mark the 31st time the wideout has totaled over 100 receiving yards.
-- Andie Hagemann
- This is a make-or-break month for a Packers squad finding its way through the post-Aaron Rodgers injury fog, and the team's workman-like resiliency beamed brightly against the Bears. Despite losing running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery in the first half to injuries, the Packers found enough consistency on offense to complement a stout defensive effort. Brett Hundley finally showcased an ability to execute plays in succession, making some strong throws against the Bears' top-10 pass defense. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the fourth quarter was a beauty the man from Butte thoroughly enjoyed from his sideline vantage point. He later connected on a 42-yard pass to Adams late in the fourth quarter that could've sealed the win had it not been for a bad hold on the ensuing field-goal attempt. Hundley completed 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a TD despite dealing with a hamstring injury during the game. It was the kind of performance that could give Hundley a much-needed boost of confidence moving forward (and potentially quell fears about the Packers' playoff-worthiness).
- Despite a decent effort from the rookie passer, Mitchell Trubisky's last-gasp drive was more burp than breathtaking. After the Packers missed a field goal in the final minute that would've sealed the win, Trubisky and the Bears couldn't generate much in crunch time. After starting things off with a first-down pass to Kendall Wright, the next pass to Wright went incomplete before he missed a wide open Joshua Bellamy. Dontrelle Inman then let him down by missing a catch to send the Bears to their seventh loss. Trubisky finished the game completing 21 of 35 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown. It was an encouraging performance, but the No. 2 overall pick is still very much a work in progress. If only things went a little differently on that nightmare of a challenge call...
- Bears coach John Fox probably will think twice before chucking out another red flag. During the second quarter, Fox challenged an on-field call that ruled running back Benny Cunningham was out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Fox thought it was a touchdown, and replay cameras showed Cunningham actually stayed in-bounds. However, he lost control of the ball just before he reached the end zone, and the play was ruled a touchback on review. The turnaround of fortunes left the Bears stunned and Fox incensed. Chicago had plenty of time to claw back, but it definitely was a cruel, modern twist for the NFL's oldest rivalry.
-- Austin Knoblauch