What we learned from Week 10 in the NFL
By Derrik Klassen
The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills played to what might have been the NFL’s best finish this season, with Minnesota claiming yet another late comeback victory thanks in part to an unreal catch by Justin Jefferson to keep a fourth-quarter drive alive.
Elsewhere, wobbling franchises came alive in the regular season’s second half as Tom Brady had the full force of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receiving corps ready to play, Aaron Rodgers knighted a Green Bay Packers receiver, and the Indianapolis Colts’ newbie coach got his first win, over the struggling Las Vegas Raiders.
Justin Jefferson is the key to the Vikings’ late-game comebacks.
The Vikings’ late-game heroics have been a bit of a double-edged sword. Escaping Week 10 with a 33-30 overtime win in Orchard Park, New York, Kirk Cousins and Co. have now won five games decided by a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime to take a late lead.
But those scores were necessitated by Minnesota’s midgame lulls. The Vikings (8-1) scored on six of their opening drives this season, but the team has averaged fewer than 3 points in third quarters.
So far, Minnesota has been able to afford scoring droughts because third-year receiver Jefferson has been nearly unguardable when games are on the line. Sunday was the best example yet of how dominant Jefferson has been as the Vikings’ top target.
Jefferson caught 10 of 16 targets for 193 yards and one touchdown, but his shining moments came when Minnesota most needed him. On the Vikings’ opening possession, a six-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, Jefferson got 68 yards on just two receptions. Jefferson caught a dig route and broke a tackle for a 46-yard gain on the third play and then burned cornerback Dane Jackson on a go ball for a 22-yard score three plays later. Both receptions came on third-down plays.
With Cousins under pressure from the Bills’ front, the Vikings tried to establish the run over the next two quarters as Buffalo built a 27-23 lead.
On what looked like the Vikings’ final shot, Cousins was sacked by Von Miller on third down at the Vikings’ 27-yard line with 2:21 remaining. The rejoicing from Bills fans was quickly silenced on fourth-and-18: Cousins heaved up a 32-yard prayer between a sea of blue jerseys, and Jefferson climbed, reached back into his defender and pulled the ball down with just his right hand.
The snatch kept the drive alive and saved an interception.
Jefferson’s 6-yard touchdown catch five plays later was overturned, and Cousins failed to sneak across the plane on fourth-and-goal, giving the Bills (6-3) the ball back. The Vikings’ defense forced a Josh Allen fumble on the Bills’ first play and recovered it for a touchdown, but Allen marshaled his own late field-goal drive to send the game to overtime.
A one-score game? Well, that’s where Minnesota has thrived this season. Jefferson caught a 13-yard pass over Ed Oliver to get the Vikings past midfield in overtime. Then Cousins targeted him on second-and-22, and Jefferson drew a pass-interference call as Bills cornerback Christian Benford tried to prevent another highlight. Jefferson’s final catch of the day, a 24-yarder to the Bills’ 2-yard line, put the Vikings in range of the field goal that sealed Minnesota’s eighth win.
Around the NFL
49ers 22, Chargers 16: This was a game of attrition. For the first quarter, the Chargers decided to play the best run defense they have all season, relying on five-man fronts to get the job done and hold the 49ers to a field goal. Eventually, the 49ers wore them down as they shelled out 36 carries to Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. The run game helped unlock all of the play-action passes Jimmy Garoppolo loves, and that was that. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert played a valiant first half despite no rushing support and endless pressure from the 49ers’ front, but he didn’t look the same after a shot to the head late in the second quarter, and the Chargers went scoreless in the second half.
Cardinals 27, Rams 17: With Kyler Murray nursing a hamstring injury and Matthew Stafford in concussion protocol, this battle of the backups turned on other position players. Colt McCoy, the Cardinals’ No. 2 quarterback, found DeAndre Hopkins for 98 yards on 10 completions, and benefited from receiver Rondale Moore’s breakout game of nine catches for 94 yards, including one tough contested grab down the field. The Rams’ John Wolford came up short and Cooper Kupp went down with an apparent ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Packers 31, Cowboys 28 (OT): Dak Prescott (27-of-46 passing for 265 yards and three touchdowns) started the game by throwing two picks then building a 14-point lead over Green Bay. But the Packers’ defense shut out the Cowboys in the fourth quarter and overtime. Christian Watson erupted for three touchdown catches and the Packers ended a five-game slide.
Colts 25, Raiders 20: Another 100-yard game from Davante Adams, another Raiders loss. Jeff Saturday, the Colts’ interim coach, reinstated Matt Ryan as the starting quarterback and leaned heavily on the run game as well as quick passes, which worked together to negate an already weak Raiders pass rush. The Raiders are now 2-7 and Josh McDaniels’ seat is on fire.
Giants 24, Texans 16: Saquon Barkley carried the ball 35 times for 152 yards and a touchdown, giving the Giants both consistency and explosiveness. Daniel Jones delivered the ball well on just 17 attempts and found Darius Slayton for multiple plays of at least 30 yards, including a short throw under pressure that Slayton took 54 yards for a score. Houston’s Davis Mills tried his best to keep up but saw constant pressure, taking four sacks.
Titans 17, Broncos 10: Despite receiver Jerry Jeudy going down early, the Broncos hit on a number of shot plays in the first half, including a 66-yard Russell Wilson touchdown pass to a wide-open Jalen Virgil. The Broncos dropped a 10-0 lead as Nick Westbrook-Ikhine’s 119 yards and two touchdowns led the way for Tennessee. Wilson’s goal-line interception ended Denver’s comeback attempt.
Steelers 20, Saints 10: New Orleans committed 10 penalties and gave away the ball twice, and Najee Harris’ 99 rushing yards on 20 carries helped Pittsburgh hold the ball for 38:56, completely suffocating the Saints.
Dolphins 39, Browns 17: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle combined for 110 yards and a touchdown, but no Dolphin caught more than five passes as Tua Tagovailoa distributed the ball effectively. Tagovailoa finished 25 of 32 with three passing touchdowns and 285 yards in a game that was decided by the third quarter.
Chiefs 27, Jaguars 17: Kansas City found a role for former Giants receiver Kadarius Toney, who had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown, as a horizontal stretch. Kansas City sent him on multiple jet sweeps, motions and quick throws on the perimeter. But the team saw receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leave the game in the second quarter after what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit left him motionless on the turf with his hands frozen in the air. There was no penalty on the tackle.
Lions 31, Bears 30: Justin Fields scored four touchdowns for the Bears but threw a pick-6 to Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah in the fourth quarter. Detroit’s Jared Goff operated well as a point-and-shoot passer, working to the tune of 9.1 yards per attempt without any of the turnovers that so often plague him.
Buccaneers 21, Seahawks 16: Tom Brady finally looked comfortable enough to dice up the Seahawks’ secondary for his highest quarterback rating of the season (85.9). Geno Smith strung together two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but the Buccaneers killed the final 4 minutes to ensure Smith couldn’t get one last shot at the lead.