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NFL Week 9: What we learned from Sunday's games

The Week 9 games on Sunday had several blowouts and some close games. Here are some of our big takeaways:

» Three missed field goals by Blair Walsh didn't help the Seahawks.

» With Carson Palmer and David Johnson off the field and on the mend, Arizona has found its balance, and its workhorse in Adrian Peterson.

» Apparently trading wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin really can save the Panthers running game.

» Everything is clicking for the Saints right now.

» With the addition of Jay Ajayi, the Eagles are now stocked with one of the league's most versatile backfields.

Here's what else we learned on Sunday:

  1. This game doubled as a guilty pleasure for those who adore stifling defense and hard-earned yardage in rough-and-tumble weather. Both teams were completely shut down on offense until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson authored yet another magical, late-game lead change with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Doug Baldwin to put Seattle up 14-10 with 1:40 left on the clock. The clash felt over, but Washington's Kirk Cousins wasn't finished, piecing together a hurly-burly final march that saw him peg Josh Doctson on a 38-yard strike to the Seattle 1. From there, Rob Kelley blasted in for the final advantage.
  1. The edgy victory capped an inspired performance by Washington's defense. The final numbers don't show it, but Wilson spent Sunday on the run against a white-knuckle Washington unit led by linebacker Zach Brown. The Seahawks passer was coaxed into a pair of costly picks for an offense that failed to score a point on their first 10 drives. Three missed field goals by Blair Walsh didn't help, but neither did Wilson's costly pick on a fourth-quarter two-point try, leaving Seattle down 10-8. Wilson got the ball back with 59 ticks left on the clock, but this time around there just wasn't enough time, with the quarterback unfurling a last-second bomb into the end zone that fell to the turf.
  1. Even with Earl Thomas and Sheldon Richardson out of commission, Seattle's defense raised holy hell of its own. Washington's first three drives ended in a punt, a lost fumble and a safety. The offense generated just 17 yards on their first five possessions before Cousins orchestrated a creative 13-play touchdown march late in the half. Washington struggled to produce yardage all day behind an offensive line missing four starters and paving the way for just 51 yards rushing at 2.2 yards per rush. Cousins, meanwhile, was sacked six times and hit all afternoon.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. In his return from suspension, Marshawn Lynch returned to form. Confronted by Ndamukong Suh and a typically stout Dolphins front seven, Lynch started slow, forcing Oakland to funnel carries early to the two shiftier backups. But patience paid off for Lynch, who bullied Miami as the game wore on, scoring two touchdowns, including a classic 22-yard scamper in the third quarter. Lynch finished with just 57 yards on 14 carries, but his presence balanced an Oakland offense that in previous weeks had relied too frequently on the right arm of Derek Carr. While Lynch looked unlike himself in his return in the field -- Beast Mode was without his signature visor -- his performance was familiar, one that the Raiders hoped it would reap when they traded for him in the offseason.
  1. The mystery coming into Sunday night was how Miami would adapt to life without Jay Ajayi, whom the Fins shipped north in a mid-week trade. The answer? Short passes and outside runs. Cutler completed his first 16 pass attempts and only one of them traveled further than 10 yards. The short gains continued in the second half, but were less effective as Cutler found himself back-pedaling too deep into his pocket. Cutler threw for a season-high 311 yards in his return from injury, but failed to test Oakland's suspect secondary down the field until it was too late. As Miami fell behind on the scoreboard, Cutler's short-passing game left Dolphins fans, and receivers, wanting. 

Statistically, the Dolphins QB had his most efficient game of the season in part due to the pass-catching abilities of his new starting backs: Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams. The two combined for 12 receptions and 82 yards. Drake, the speedier option, got more attention on the ground, carrying the ball nine times for 69 yards; his one miscue, a fumble, did lead to a go-ahead Raiders TD in the first half. Miami might miss the occasional Ajayi bruising run, but as a result of his trade, the Dolphins' running back position had its most complete game of the season.

  1. Carr didn't rely on his deep ball against Miami, but when he needed a big play, it was there for the taking. His 44-yard bomb to speed demon Johnny Holton at the end of the first half, dropped halfway across the field on a dime, put Oakland up for good. Then, on the Raiders' final scoring drive, Carr rolled out to his right and delivered on the move, with perfect touch, a 29-yard hammer to Seth Roberts. For the third week in a row, Carr threw for at least 300 yards. The return of Oakland's aerial display, after an unexplained hiatus in early October, is a sign of good things to come.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. It's been a while since we've had a back-and-forth game between two of the NFL's contending teams. Well, OK, we'll count last week's Seattle-Houston game. But this one was of a higher caliber. This one felt like two heavyweights, trading blows in a slugfest. First, it was Dak Prescott's scramble for a score and seemingly a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. But being the contender it is, Kansas City did not relent, scoring in unlikely fashion thanks to Tyreek Hill right at halftime.

As the game unfolded, both teams' records floated on the screen below their abbreviations: 6-2 (Kansas City) and 4-3 (Dallas). For most of this contest, you could have swapped records and it would have been believable. We can't say that too often about games being played at this time of the year.

  1. In the end, what downed the Chiefs was what necessitated their furious comeback: They couldn't get stops when needed most. Dallas converted 7 of 12 third down attempts and for the game, were about as balanced as possible, gaining 13 first downs through the air and 10 on the ground. As a defense, the yardage total wasn't all that bad -- Dallas gained 375 -- but the inability to force Dallas to punt ended up being the difference.
  1. We already knew Dak Prescott had something special in him, but Sunday was something else from the quarterback. Against a high-quality opponent, Prescott upped his play to exceed his nemesis, firing darts to five different teammates and using his feet to make plays when needed most. He finished with a line of 21-of-33 passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and ran three times for 27 yards and an additional score. Rich Eisen said it best as Dallas attempted to salt away the win: Prescott was nothing short of terrific and most valuable. With the potential Ezekiel Elliott suspension seemingly forever looming, the play of Prescott is massively important. On Sunday, he proved he can handle the load.

-- Nick Shook

  1. With Carson Palmer and David Johnson off the field and on the mend, Arizona has found its balance, and its workhorse. Adrian Peterson carried the load on offense Sunday, finishing with 159 yards on a career-high 37 carries and grinding down the clock with 20 second-half attempts. The Cardinals finished with a 1.37:1 run-pass ratio, a far cry from their league-leading 67.5 pass play percentage. With his throwback performance, Peterson went over the 12,000 career yardage mark and passed Thurman Thomas for 15th on the all-time list. It's a lot to ask A.D. to shoulder 30-plus totes every week until Palmer returns (if that day ever comes), but it's assuring to know the future Hall of Famer still has a day like this in him. (In other old-man news, Larry Fitzgerald passed Tim Brown for sixth on the all-time receiving list and led the Cards in receiving [5 rec, 70 yards] on the day.)
  1. The following is a plea to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers' coaching staff: Protect your investment. Don't play Jimmy Garoppolo behind this offensive line. Or at least until Joe Staley returns from injury.C.J. Beathard took a season-high 16 hits from Arizona and was sacked five times. In the last four games, 49ers QBs have been knocked 49 times. As the losing continues, calls for Garoppolo to start will amplify, but San Francisco has to be smart about playing their shiny acquisition and quarterback of the future. Even if he escapes the inevitable pressure, who will he throw to? Pierre Garcon is on IR, Marquise Goodwin is a one-trick pony and Trent Taylor left Sunday's game with a rib injury. As there is nothing to gain and a lot to lose, the Niners should use Sunday's game tape as an excuse to shelve Garoppolo for the time being.
  1. Sure, the Niners' offensive line was a sieve, but give credit where credit is due: The Cardinals' front seven, those young and old, got home all game long. Karlos Dansby, 36 years old and on his third tour in Arizona, tallied two QB hits, a sack, two passes defensed and the game-sealing interception in the red zone. Unsung defensive tackles Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter each recorded two QB hits. Chandler Jones got in the sack column for the fifth consecutive game; he leads the team with nine on the season. At 4-4, the Cards are technically still in the postseason hunt. If they are to make a run at the playoffs, the veteran defense will have to carry them.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Apparently trading wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin really can save the Panthers running game. The Panthers rushed for 201 yards -- with Cam Newton picking up 86 of those with a touchdown -- in another victory for the 6-3 Panthers where they didn't need to throw the ball well to win. So many of the biggest plays of the game came from Newton's rugged running ability and the read-option plays that come off it, including a walk-in Christian McCaffrey touchdown. McCaffrey's best day on the ground (66 yards) bodes well for an offensive line which won the battle on Sunday.
  1. Big games often come down to the plays a team doesn't make. Matt Ryan had Julio Jones wide open for a long touchdown on the game's first drive. Ryan overshot him. Jones got deep on a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter and dropped a similarly wide-open would-be touchdown. Blame offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian all you want, but those are plays that Ryan and Jones would have made a season ago.
  1. The game turned on Atlanta's inability to pick up short yardage situations. Leading 10-0 in the first half, the Falcons turned the ball over on downs because the Panthers kept winning up front. Later in the game, the Falcons were forced to throw in similar situations to poor effect. This was yet another game where the Falcons looked good for long stretches but it didn't reflect on the scoreboard. (And yet another game where one of Ryan's receivers, this time Austin Hooper, was at fault for an interception.)

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Everything is clicking for the Saints right now. Two running backs -- Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara -- combined to average more than 5.5 yards per carry. Drew Brees completed 80 percent of his passes. Marshon Lattimore and the Saints defense stifled the Bucs and knocked Jameis Winston out of the game. The Saints, now winners of six in a row after an 0-2 start, are looking more and more like a legit contender in the NFC.
  1. Are the Buccaneers the biggest disappointment of this NFL season? Tampa Bay (2-6) has routinely underperformed, and Sunday's no-show makes you wonder if head coach Dirk Koetter has lost the team entirely. Mike Evans' bush league cheap shot of Lattimore along the Bucs sideline showed all the telltale signs of a team that has lost the plot. When FOX cameras locked in on Koetter minutes later -- emotionless and staring into the abyss -- it didn't exactly inspire confidence that Tampa has the right leadership in place. That includes Jameis Winston, who started the trouble with Lattimore by poking him in the helmet after a sideline exchange. The fact that Winston wasn't even in the game at the point -- he exited after the first half due to his lingering shoulder injury -- made it an especially bad look for the franchise centerpiece. The Bucs are a mess.
  1. The game's scariest moment occurred in the third quarter, when Bucs defensive end William Gholston collapsed to the turf with a neck injury. It was an unusual scene in that it was unclear what happened on the play, but the situation was serious enough to stop the game for several minutes as Gholston was immobilized and taken off the field on a stretcher. The fifth-year man did have movement in his extremities, always a great sign in these situations.

-- Dan Hanzus

1a. Let's start right here: The Eagles are a legitimate threat to glide right into the Super Bowl if they continue to blast through opponents with the power and might we witnessed on Sunday. Denver's season, meanwhile, feels completely over.

1b. Jay Ajayi saw snaps right away for an Eagles squad now stocked with one of the league's most versatile backfields. The former Dolphins runner, acquired Tuesday, combined with Wentz on a well-orchestrated fake handoff that caught Denver off guard and set up the quarterback's beautiful 32-yard first-quarter touchdown strike to Alshon Jeffery. That marked Wentz's league-leading 20th scoring pass, but he wasn't done, throwing for 199 yards and four touchdowns before Nick Foles took over in the fourth. Forget the numbers: We're seeing Philly's young quarterback evolve weekly with pristine touch passes and gutsy downfield lasers, but it's more than just the physical gifts. Wentz repeatedly drew the Broncos offsides with pre-snap cadence and showed next-level vision against Denver's talented secondary. Already known as one of the game's top students under center, his preparation shows every Sunday.

  1. Exactly what did the Broncos expect to see from Brock Osweiler? Something exciting and new? Try again. Guiding the league's worst scoring offense since Week 3, Trevor Siemian's replacement threw a disastrous pass near end of the first quarter that landed in the arms of Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson. Three plays later, Corey Clement caught a screen from Wentz and raced 15 yards into the end zone to put Philly up 17-3. With Osweiler at the wheel, this unbalanced romp felt over after the first quarter. I wouldn't be surprised to see second-year passer Paxton Lynch take over when he's healthy for Osweiler (19 of 38 for 208 yards), who unfurled two picks and an array of airy duds before generating meaningless points in garbage time. This all came against a rugged Philly defense, but Denver has loads of work to do on this side of the ball come the offseason.
  1. One more note on this Eagles backfield: Mimicking what we've seen from the uber-creative Patriots, Philly seamlessly mixed Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Clement into the scheme with a rash of unique looks. All three backs saw their share of carries -- combining for 189 yards at 5.3 yards per rush -- with Ajayi closing the first half with a 46-yard touchdown gallop that put the Broncos on ice. Come the second half, Philly settled in and punished Denver's defense with blistering runs from Blount, speedy dashes by Clement and violent hammer drops from the newly acquired Ajayi. When this formula clicks, the sky's the limit.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. What's the inverse of watching jaw-dropping rookie Deshaun Watson? Texans fans experienced it Sunday with Tom Savage under center. Replacing the wunderkind quarterback, who is out for the season with an ACL tear, Savage proceeded to miss throw after throw, frequently targeting players in double and triple coverage. The pocket-passer couldn't find the range short or deep, tossing a plethora of passes high, wide, long, and in the dirt. Savage rarely gave his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball, often sailing it out of bounds down the field. The Colts' limp defense came in allowing 290 passing yards per game for the season and was without top corner Vontae Davis. Savage made the rag-tag crew look like Pro Bowlers early. At one point in the second half, Savage was 9-of-28 passing for 96 yards. With the Colts taking a 13-point lead and playing soft coverage, Savage completed 10 of his next 16 passes for 123 yards, including his first career TD toss on a spectacular body-contorting catch by DeAndre Hopkins. Savage led the Texans to first-and-goal from the 7-yard-line with a chance to pull out the win. After three incomplete passes, the quarterback held the ball on fourth down, took a sack, and fumbled to end the game. Boo-birds rained down on Savage often from the Houston faithful. After watching its offense score 39 points per game in the last five tilts with Watson, the frustration was understandable for fans watching Savage struggle.
  1. T.Y. Hilton ghosted the Texans again. The speedy wideout burned Johnathan Joseph deep for a 45-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. Hilton later took a short crossing route to pay dirt on an 80-yard catch-and-run. On the play, Hilton was not touched after jumping over Texans corner Kareem Jackson and smartly got up, scampering to the end zone for the game-deciding score. Hilton has torched Houston in his career. Sunday's five-catch, 175-yard, 2-TD day was Hilton's fifth 100-plus yard game versus the Texans in his six-year career. Jacoby Brissett sorely needed his top receiver to step up after earning just five total receptions during the Colts' three-game losing streak.
  1. Jacoby Brissett flashed his big arm on a few bullets, but the second-year QB continued to be inconsistent and held the ball too long on several occasions. Brissett missed a blitz late in the first half that led to a strip sack, scooped up by Lamarr Houston for the Texans' first score of the day. The Colts' offensive inconsistencies allowed Houston to hang around and almost steal the game. Indy had five drives of four plays or fewer and converted just four of 14 third downs on the day. Against a better quarterback, the Colts would be staring at their fourth straight loss.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. After stymying the Ravens consistently through the first three quarters, mistakes on both sides of the ball nearly cost the Titans a win. Eric Weddle's fourth-quarter interception off Marcus Mariota led to two scoring drives by the Ravens that melted right through the Tennessee secondary. Luckily, Mariota's interception didn't give Baltimore enough time to mount a proper comeback. The nine-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown catch by Eric Decker from Mariota also didn't hurt. Mariota completed 19 of 28 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. The ground game didn't help much: Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray combined for a measly 45 yards on 17 carries. It could have been better, but the Titans did just enough to win.
  1. After a brief respite in Week 8, the Ravens' inconsistencies on offense crept back into existence. Their last two possessions were outstanding -- two well-orchestrated drives culminating in touchdowns were simply too little, too late. As impressive as it was to see Joe Flacco back under center after the devastating hit he suffered against the Dolphins last week that left him concussed, it was mostly a two-faced performance by the veteran signal-caller. Flacco completed 34 of 52 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two interceptions -- and had it not been for his somewhat redeeming fourth-quarter performance, it would have easily been a sub-elite effort. The Ravens' ground game also suffered. The Titans forced Baltimore to throw in the second half after shutting down Alex Collins and Buck Allen.
  1. If Jeremy Maclin and Delanie Walker are still dealing with lingering issues related to their respective injuries, they didn't show it Sunday. Maclin, who has been plagued with shoulder soreness, finished with eight catches for 98 yards and played a big role in moving Baltimore down field in their two scoring drives. Walker, who was questionable entering the game with an ankle injury, made five catches for 71 yards.

-- Austin Knoblauch

  1. If you'd have asked me at this time last season if I could see the Rams posting a 50 burger at any point in the next 12-18 months, I'd have flat out laughed. Not even a chuckle. A full-blown, hearty laugh. If I'd been drinking water, it would have shot out of my nose. That's how unfathomable it would have been. But here we are, with one of the NFL's most potent offenses, led by the resurgent Todd Gurley and the improving Jared Goff. There was a moment in last year's Hard Knocks where Jeff Fisher and Les Snead discussed a pass from Goff in practice that was a true professional, big-time throw. We saw that in game action on Sunday in Goff's bomb to Sammy Watkins. As the quarterback gets better, so does the offense. It was at its best yet on Sunday.
  1. Are the Ramsthat good? This set of eyes and a brain says YES. It's one thing if a team can put up loads of points, but the Rams did that and were just as good in the other two phases. Los Angeles' defense got things rolling with an Aaron Donald strip sack (which the offense turned into points), then Trumaine Johnson intercepted Eli Manning. The Rams cashed in on that second takeaway with a Greg Zuerlein field goal. To top it all off, Los Angeles blocked a Giants punt, which the Rams turned into a Todd Gurley touchdown three plays later. We don't even have to mention Gurley's two scores to drive home how effective these Rams are. Sure, we still have another eight weeks to go, which is plenty of time for thigns to fall apart. Right now, with all three parts of its team playing well, the Rams don't look to be headed anywhere but up.
  1. Sunday was a day to forget for the Giants' secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was smoked by Watkins on his long touchdown pass. Landon Collins was late in helping cover Watkins on the score, which followed him taking a bad angle and getting left in Robert Woods' dust on his screen pass for a touchdown. As our own Chris Wesseling tweeted, Collins was a big-play sieve on Sunday. It was a microcosm of the missed tackled-filled performance of New York's defense on Sunday, which head coach Ben McAdoo lamented after the game.

But there is one silver lining, which is a recurring silver lining in an otherwise very gloomy season for the Giants: Evan Engram was good! Most of this season will be considered lost once it's done, but New York will be able to pin some of its future hopes on Engram, who has exceeded all expectations, even as a first-round selection. Engram leads rookie tight ends in receptions and yards, and is tied with Tampa Bay's O.J. Howard for touchdowns with three. His score Sunday included him Mossing his defender. Not a bad start for a guy some considered a tweener at the position.

-- Nick Shook

  1. The Jacksonville Jaguars were without running back Leonard Fournette after the rookie was made inactive for violating team rules. Without Fournette, the Jaguars' ground game relied on the running back tandem of Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 110 yards rushing. In the air, Blake Bortles connected with wide receiver Marqise Lee eight times for 75 yards and one touchdown; Lee's eight catches is a career high. The Jaguars' offense racked up 407 total yards, a fete that seemed impossible considering the team's woes and the Bengals' defense prowess this season.

After the game, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone told reporters he anticipates Fournette playing next week.

"It's internal," Marrone said. "I'm going to stick with the statement. It's between the player and myself and we handle it internally."

  1. Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill missed Sunday's contest because of an ankle injury. In what could have been a breakout game for Joe Mixon, the rookie fell flat. Mixon had 13 carries for 31 yards and one touchdown against Jacksonville.
  1. Both Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey were ejected from the game after engaging in a physical altercation just before halftime. Green exited the game with just one reception for six yards.

-- Andie Hageman

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