What we learned from Week 10 of the NFL season

By Benjamin Hoffman

A Hail Mary into triple-coverage. A 98-yard touchdown run. A roughing-the-passer call that handed a team a win. It was a week of big plays and last-minute changes in fortune, and it shook up the NFL’s best division, as the NFC West now has a three-way tie for first place.

Here’s what we learned:

— DeAndre Hopkins is magic. Buffalo had just scored a gut-punch of a touchdown to take a 30-26 lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter and Arizona, after the ensuing kickoff, had just 34 seconds to go 75 yards to score a winning touchdown. Undeterred, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were methodical. Murray, the second-year quarterback. completed passes of 14, 9 and 9 yards to put Arizona at Buffalo’s 43-yard line, and that was all the space he needed. On his fourth pass of the drive, Murray launched a Hail Mary into triple-coverage in the end zone and Hopkins, acquired in a trade this offseason to unlock Murray’s potential, managed to outjump and outmuscle all three Buffalo defenders for the ball. The remarkable catch is the type of highlight that will be replayed for years, and it gave Arizona a thrilling end to a 32-30 win.

Thanks to a Seattle loss to the Los Angeles Rams, it also gave the Cardinals a share of the division lead in the ultracompetitive NFC West.

— Ronald Jones II had a point to prove. After Tampa Bay set an NFL record by running the ball just five times in a humiliating loss to New Orleans last week, the Buccaneers remembered Jones existed and the running back helped carry them to a laughable 46-23 win over Carolina. Jones ran for 192 yards on 23 carries, but one play stood out. In the third quarter, with Tampa Bay clinging to a three-point lead, Jones took a handoff at his team’s 2-yard line, sliced right through a pack of Carolina defenders, and raced 98 yards for a touchdown, just the fourth rushing touchdown of 98 or more yards in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference.

According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats database, Jones hit 21.19 mph on the run, gaining 94 more yards than expected on the play — the highest mark in that statistic all season.

— Something is not right for Baltimore. The Ravens have lost two of three games since their Week 7 bye and have not looked nearly as explosive on offense. In Sunday night’s rain-soaked 23-17 loss to New England, Baltimore was limited to 115 yards rushing, with running back Mark Ingram getting just 5 yards in his return from an ankle injury, compounding his bad day by losing track of the snap on a wildcat play in the third quarter that resulted in a turnover on downs. It’s far too soon to say the league has figured Baltimore out, but this is the closest thing to a slump the Ravens have had in the Lamar Jackson era.

— Miami’s future is now. The Dolphins’ decision to switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback raised a few eyebrows — most notably Fitzpatrick’s — since Miami was playing well and was on the fringe of this year’s playoff hunt. The move was rationalized by most as the right play for the team’s future, but Tagovailoa has quickly changed that narrative by winning the first three starts of his career. In Sunday’s convincing 29-21 win over Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, rookie running back Salvon Ahmed led the way, and the team’s defense withstood a late surge from Herbert. Tagovailoa’s statistics haven’t been eye-popping, but getting him much-needed experience while inching closer to a wild-card spot is a major case of a team having its cake and eating it, too.

— Seattle can’t blame its defense this week. The Seahawks’ Achilles’ heel all season has been its porous defense, but in a devastating loss to the Rams, the offense pulled a disappearing act. Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season with 248 yards passing and two interceptions, D.K. Metcalf had just two catches on four targets and Seattle, which has lost three of its past four games, fell into a three-way tie with the Rams and Arizona for the lead in the NFC West. The Seahawks host the Cardinals next week in what appears to be a crucial game for both teams.

— Chase Young owes his teammates an apology. There were fewer than 10 seconds remaining in a tie game between the Detroit Lions and the Washington Footballers when Detroit’s Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass at his own 35-yard line, making overtime seem like a foregone conclusion. But Young, a rookie defensive end for Washington, came in late and tossed Stafford to the ground, earning a flag for roughing the passer. The 15-yard penalty, plus a 6-yard pass from Stafford to Marvin Jones, got Matt Prater just close enough for a 59-yard field goal as time expired. That Washington had fought back from a 24-3 deficit to tie the game, only to have it fall apart because of such a ridiculous mistake, will certainly sting — and will undoubtedly be a focus of Washington’s review of the game this week.

Sunday’s Top Performers

Top Passer: Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh’s quarterback appears to need practice about as much as Allen Iverson did. Roethlisberger was idle all week after landing on the COVID-19 reserve list as a result of close contact with tight end Vance McDonald and wasn’t cleared to enter team facilities until Saturday. That didn’t matter as he torched Cincinnati’s defense for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Pittsburgh improved to 9-0 for the season and will look to stretch that to 10-0 next week in Jacksonville.

Top Runner: Ronald Jones II

It is hard to tell by the final score, but this was a closely-contested 17-17 game at halftime, and the second half had a slow start as well. Jones’ wild 98-yard run came on the first play of Tampa Bay’s second drive of the third quarter, and from there the Buccaneers were off to the races. Needless to say, the 192 yards rushing were a personal best for Jones, who came into the day with a career-high of 113. He had just 9 yards last week.

Top Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins

You could make a reasonable case that Green Bay’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a more impressive game overall, considering his 78-yard touchdown and his average of 37.3 yards a catch. But this column is a Murray-to-Hopkins Hail Mary fan blog and we are not considering other nominees at this time.

A Big Week for Kickers

Detroit’s Matt Prater got most of the attention for a three field-goal game that included a 59-yard game-winner as time expired, but he was far from alone. With one game remaining in Week 10, the league’s kickers have already connected for 11 field goals of 50 or more yards, tying a record set in Week 13 of the 2012 season.

The longest field goal Sunday belonged to Seattle’s Jason Myers, who hit a 61-yarder in the Seahawks’ loss to Los Angeles. But the best day, beyond Prater’s, belonged to Buffalo’s Tyler Bass who connected on field goals of 54, 55 and 58 yards, setting a new career long on three consecutive kicks.

There have been 71 field goals of at least 50 yards this season, which according to the NFL has already broken the league’s record for the first 10 weeks of the season, which was set in 2017 when there were 67.

One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games

*Except when it takes more.

Buccaneers 46, Panthers 23: Tom Brady had more than 300 yards passing for the third time this season — he topped that mark only once in his final 10 games with New England — and he once again split up his touchdown passes, with one each to Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Cameron Brate.

Steelers 36, Bengals 10: Pittsburgh’s big day on offense saw Diontae Johnson, a second-year wide receiver, contribute six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown while rookie sensation Chase Claypool scored two more touchdowns, bringing his total over his past six games to eight.

Rams 23, Seahawks 16: Leonard Floyd got three of the Rams’ six sacks and five of the team’s 12 quarterback hits, helping to make Russell Wilson’s day absolutely miserable.

Giants 27, Eagles 17: It was a throwback game for New York, as the team’s defensive front set the tone with three sacks and 13 quarterback hits, and Daniel Jones went a second consecutive game without committing a turnover. After starting the season 0-5, the Giants have improved from historically awful to merely bad, which in their division could lead to a playoff spot.

Packers 24, Jaguars 20: After an impressive NFL debut last week, Jacksonville’s Jake Luton came back to Earth a bit, passing for just 169 yards with one touchdown and one interception against a Green Bay defense that typically makes quite a few mistakes. That won’t work against Aaron Rodgers, even on a day that was a little slow by his lofty standards.

Patriots 23, Ravens 17: Rex Burkhead caught touchdown passes from Cam Newton and Jakobi Meyers, Damien Harris ran for 121 yards and New England held on for an upset that could go a long way to turning around a disappointing season.

Saints 27, 49ers 13: A huge hit from San Francisco’s Kentavius Street in the second quarter left Saints quarterback Drew Brees wincing on the field — and resulted in a fairly questionable penalty on Street. Brees was able to fight his way through the pain until halftime, but gave way to Jameis Winston for the second half despite never being officially ruled out with what was described as a rib injury.

Dolphins 29, Chargers 21: Justin Herbert has had a remarkable rookie season, but the Chargers quarterback was outplayed by Tua Tagovailoa in this game and his interception early in the fourth quarter helped give Miami the breathing room it needed to stretch its winning streak to five games.

Lions 30, Footballers 27: In his first start in nearly two years following a devastating leg break, Alex Smith threw for 390 yards and rallied his team all the way back from a 24-3 deficit to a 27-27 tie before a mistake by his team’s defense handed Detroit the victory.

Browns 10, Texans 7: In his first action since Week 4, Nick Chubb ran for 126 yards and a touchdown while Kareem Hunt, seeming happy to share the load, had 132 yards from scrimmage.

Raiders 37, Broncos 12: When asked about a game in which his team’s defense forced five turnovers and running backs Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker combined for 193 yards rushing and four touchdowns, quarterback Derek Carr just seemed happy to be there. “It’s kind of awesome,” Carr said in his postgame news conference. “As I get older, I let the young guys do more of the work.”

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