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The have-nots didn’t have it on Sunday afternoon, as winless squads in Washington, New York and Cincinnati all lost again. Kliff Kingsbury and Vic Fangio won their first games as NFL head coaches, while Bill Belichick won his 264th. Elsewhere, teams under fire in Minnesota and Baltimore got off the schneid and others in Atlanta and Chicago are starting to panic.
Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s contests:
Indianapolis Colts 19, Kansas City Chiefs 13
1. The NFL has been struggling for over a year now with one simple quandary: How do you stop Patrick Mahomes? On Sunday evening, Indy offered a simpler response: Keep him off the field. Without its All-Pro linebacker and both of its starting safeties, the Colts defense held Kansas City to just 13 points. Indy’s offense, meanwhile, helped hold Mahomes’ unit to just 22:45 in time of possession. Leaning on a physical up-the-middle ground game that attacked a fatigued and injury-riddled Chiefs interior line, the Colts’ backfield, comprised mostly of Marlon Mack and Jordan Wilkins, racked up 180 yards and 12 first downs on 45 carries, the second-most of any team this season. Indy choked the life out of Kansas City’s defense, which lost Chris Jones, Anthony Hitchens and Xavier Williams over the game’s course, with four drives of at least 11 plays, including two in the second half. The killer march came after a rare Chiefs three-and-out. Starting late in the third quarter, the Colts embarked on a 14-play drive, on which they attempted just two passes, converted two fourth-and-shorts and ran 8:34 (more than half a quarter) off the clock. That the drive ended only in a field goal mattered little. Indy was running down the Chiefs’ throats, and K.C. eventually ran out of time.
2. Kansas City (4-1) is no longer perfect, and Mahomes might no longer be the front-runner for MVP. This is by no real fault of his own. The Chiefs QB ended this game without his starting left tackle, left guard and top two wide receivers (Tyreek Hill is still out with a shoulder injury and Sammy Watkins played just two snaps before exiting with a hamstring strain). Mahomes himself was beaten up behind the offensive line, taking multiple blows to a left ankle that had to be wrapped at halftime. A mobile magician in the first half — most notably on his radical touchdown pass to Byron Pringle, which came after a 7.61-second field-traversing scramble — Mahomes was limited in his few snaps in the final frames. By the time the Chiefs QB looked comfortable and active in the pocket on K.C.’s final FG drive, it was too late. In regards to the MVP conversation, Mahomes failed to one-up Russell Wilson’s bravura (and victorious) outing in Thursday’s prime-time broadcast. Mahomes and the Chiefs will surely bounce back — K.C. still leads Oakland in the AFC West by a game, and the QB has yet to throw an INT — but Sunday night proved that both team and player are not invincible.
3. On offense and defense, Indy was superior in the trenches. The Colts offensive line, arguably the sturdiest and most reliable in football after years of mediocrity, kept Jacoby Brissett clean and paved massive holes for a patient Mack. On the other side of the ball, Indy’s no-name front seven, led by former Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston, took advantage of a battered Chiefs offensive line, shutting down K.C.’s feeble attempt at a run game, sacking Mahomes four times and hitting the MVP on eight occasions. Indy will mourn the loss of breakout edge rusher Kemoko Turay, who suffered a gnarly ankle injury late in this one after recording three QB hits — but there was a lot to celebrate about the Colts’ physicality on the line of scrimmage Sunday night. Pushed around at home by the Raiders just a week ago, Indy mustered its most dominant performance of the year in the toughest environment. Paced by a vengeful Houston, whose fourth-and-1 stuff of Damien Williams late in the fourth quarter ended K.C.’s dreams of a comeback, Indy (3-2) is back in the thick of it in the AFC.
— Jeremy Bergman
Green Bay Packers 34, Dallas Cowboys 24
1. “This is my house,” Packers running back Aaron Jones screamed to the FOX camera after scoring a first-half touchdown. Jones owned the Cowboys’ shrine Sunday, demolishing the Dallas D on the ground and in the passing game. The bulldozing running back bowled through tackle after tackle, making Cowboys defenders look silly in space. Jones’ combination of power and elusiveness clown-suited Dallas linebackers, leaving Leighton Vander Esch grasping for air more than we’ve ever seen. The RB compiled 107 rushing yards on 19 attempts, with a career-high four rushing TDs (tying a franchise record). Jones is the first player to rush for four TDs in a single game versus the Cowboys (3-2). The RB led the Pack (4-1) in both rushing and receiving, adding seven catches for 75 yards. Jones compiled 182 of the Packers’ 335 yards on the day. When the third-year back has been given a chance to be the workhorse, he’s proven he can be a game-changer. Without Davante Adams on Sunday, the Green Bay offense leaned on Jones, and he carried them.
2. The Packers defense once again swarmed the quarterback. Taking advantage of Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith missing the tilt, and right tackle La’el Collins getting injured, Green Bay’s pass rush bamboozled Dak Prescott, repeatedly forcing the QB into poor decisions. Za’Darius Smith gobbled up two sacks and four QB hits, frequently destroying replacement left tackle Cameron Fleming, and Preston Smith added a sack and two QB hits. The free-agent additions have completely rejuvenated the Packers’ defensive front. The back end, meanwhile, intercepted Prescott three times, smothering receivers not named Amari Cooper in the first half. With the scoreboard lopsided early, Dallas couldn’t eat away at a suspect Green Bay run defense with Ezekiel Elliott. It’s the type of game-script that plays to the Packers’ strength on D. With injuries mounting, the secondary gave up yards as the Cowboys fought back into the contest. The forced turnovers made the difference, however, giving Green Bay enough of a cushion to withstand a comeback.
3. For the second straight week, the Cowboys’ offense looked addled early, unable to get into a flow and repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. In the first half, Dallas got into Green Bay territory on four of six possessions, yet scored zero points, including two interceptions and a missed field goal. The offense woke up in the second half with more deep shots, as we saw through the first three games of the season. Amari Cooper beat corner Jaire Alexander with some sublime route-running, compiling a whopping 226 yards on 11 receptions with a TD. Cooper was the Cowboys’ best player Sunday but didn’t get enough help for long stretches. The Cowboys generated 563 total yards on the day, consistently moving between the 20s, but far too many errors early, and questionable game-management late, ultimately doomed Dallas. The comeback bid getting snuffed out on a missed field-goal attempt by Brett Maher following a false start was an apropos ending for the Cowboys on Sunday.
— Kevin Patra
Baltimore Ravens 26, Pittsburgh Steelers 23 (OT)
1. The Ravens (3-2) played their ace in the hole with the game on the line, trotting out the best kicker in football to send the game to overtime with a 48-yard field goal. Justin Tucker then proceeded to tantalize Steelers fans with a game-winner that seemed to be hooking left before drawing back in and tucking inside the upright for the narrow victory versus an undermanned division rival. On a day when Lamar Jackson took five sacks and tossed three interceptions, Baltimore needed a game-changing play by cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who punched the ball out of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands and watched Steelers backup QB Devlin Hodges overrun the the dancing prolate spheroid before picking it up himself, giving Tucker a shot to play the hero.
2. Pittsburgh’s defense was forced to shoulder the load even before starting QB Mason Rudolph was knocked out with a concussion in the middle of the third quarter. Whereas Rudolph managed just a pair of field goals on two Jackson interceptions deep in Baltimore territory, Hodges came on in relief and immediately led the most efficient scoring drive of the afternoon — aided by a phantom pass interference penalty — to put his team in the lead for the first time. After Tucker tied the game with a 26-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, Hodges’ 21-yard scramble set up Chris Boswell’s answer to give the Steelers (1-4) yet another lead. That’s when Tucker took over, nailing the end-of-regulation kick and the subsequent winner in overtime. The all-time leading passer in FCS history over four years at Samford University, the undrafted Hodges impressed onlookers this past summer to the extent that Pittsburgh felt comfortable enough to trade third-stringer Josh Dobbs before Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury. Although he d
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