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2021 NFL season, Week 9: What we learned from Sunday's games

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 7-2-0
Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 7-2-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Titans defense owns the night. Though the debut of Von Miller on the Rams defense must wait at least another week, the Titans' first game this season without Derrick Henry was inevitable. But with quandaries abounding about how the Tennessee offense would fill the 6-foot-3, 247-pound hole left by Henry's broken foot, it was the Titans defense that did the stepping up in emphatic fashion. Keyed by a bunch of bad men named Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Kevin Byard, Tennessee's D set an ominous tone for the Rams offense in the early going and was the largest reason the Titans came away with a truly impressive and important win on Sunday night. The Titans held the Rams to a season-low 16 points and without a touchdown until garbage time. Simmons' three first-half sacks fueled the team's five-sack performance that saw Tennessee pressure Matthew Stafford on 28.3% of dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats (no other team this season reached 25% against the Rams). The damage was delivered early as Simmons wrapped up Stafford in the end zone and forced a horrible interception to David Long. A play later, the Titans took the lead for good on a Geoff Swaim touchdown catch. On the Rams' ensuing offensive play, Byard hauled in a 24-yard pick-six. Two interceptions within 26 seconds that led to 14 points. In two of the last three weeks, the Titans defense has held the Chiefs and Rams to season-lows in points. It's helped Tennessee rack up an incredible string of wins in consecutive games against the Bills, Chiefs, Colts and Rams. This was an evening all about how the offense would go without its biggest and baddest go-getter, Henry. Henry, Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown have been the centerpieces of the Titans' AFC ascendance over the last couple seasons, but on Sunday night it was a stellar defensive effort that was the catalyst for victory. And that defense could (and might need to) be the driving force for the Titans going forward if it can maintain this level of play.
  2. Yo Adrian! Welcome back. In many ways, Adrian Peterson's had two careers: The first was as one of the greatest running backs of all time, and the second as a journeyman ball carrier who's been able to give plenty of teams a surprising lift when needed. He continued the latter part of his Hall of Fame career Sunday night, taking a carry on the Titans' first offensive play and getting tackled by Aaron Donald. Welcome back. Peterson then got a late touchdown run to wrap up the Titans' win, a debut made for a feel-good story. However, big as this win was for the Titans, it didn't come and go without raising some concerns for Tennessee. Tannehill and the offense were able to cobble together nary 195 yards of offense. In the bright lights of a big win, it's overlooked, but that's a rather putrid output in the cold reality of the daylight. Tennessee had the No. 11 total offense entering the game and certainly didn't look that way (albeit, the Rams defense is stellar). Peterson had 10 carries for 21 yards, and the Titans had only 69 yards on the ground, their fewest in a win since Week 3, 2012, per NFL Research. There is a victory to celebrate, but still questions to answer about how the Titans offense will run successfully in the weeks ahead without Henry.
  3. Kupp draws notice even in defeat. Cooper Kupp is in his fifth season and it would be folly to call him unheralded because he's garnered notice before, particularly in 2019. But this is still a breakout season for the 28-year-old receiver, who's continually putting up mind-spinning numbers and forcing himself into the convo for AP Offensive Player of the Year. On Sunday, Kupp became the first receiver this year to cross 1,000 yards and now stands at 1,019, having become the second player in the Super Bowl era with 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in his team's first nine games (the other was Jerry Rice), per NFL Research. Kupp had 11 catches for 95 yards and no scores. It was hardly his best showing of the season and it was the Rams' worst offensive outing of the year, but in that regard it shined a light on just how special the going has been for Kupp. Even in the worst of times for the Rams, Kupp is still turning in the best of seasons.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jeffery Simmons is just the second interior defensive lineman in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) to record six or more QB pressures and three or more sacks in a single half (other: Calais Campbell in Week 1, 2017). Simmons had five tackles, six QB pressures and three sacks in the first half.

NFL Research: Adrian Peterson scored the 125th touchdown of his career (his 119th rushing score to go with six receiving). He is the 12th player in NFL history to score 125 or more touchdowns and the other 11 are each Hall of Famers.

Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 5-4-0
Green Bay Packers
2021 · 7-2-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Chiefs offense remains a grind. Once again, Patrick Mahomes and the offense struggled to generate big plays, but did enough to eke out a victory. The K.C. offense generated just 237 total yards on 63 plays, averaging a measly 3.8 yards per play. Mahomes had an inefficient night, completing just 20 of 37 passes for 166 yards and one TD while earning 4.5 yards per attempt. The former MVP QB couldn't find the long-range all game, going 0 for 5 on deep passes. After scoring an opening-drive TD that went 64 net yards with six first downs, the Chiefs scored just two field goals, earned eight additional first downs and went three-and-out four times. Early in the season, the Chiefs moved the ball but were sabotaged by turnovers. On Sunday, they didn't turn it over, but the disjointed offense couldn't generate first downs. Mahomes saved his best play for the last, avoiding a sack, scrambling and finding Tyreek Hill to ice the game. It was the type of play that reminds what the Chiefs' offense can be when everything clicks. Luckily for Kansas City, it faced a rookie QB who couldn't take advantage of its offensive issues.
  2. Jordan Love struggles in first start. The former first-round pick got off to a rocky start, looking uncomfortable and missing a heap of throws throughout the night. Love struggled to diagnose the blitz, particularly on third downs, as the Packers converted just two of 12 third-down attempts (started 0 of 9). Coach Matt LaFleur didn't help his young QB out a ton, at times abandoning the run game too early. But Love missed too many throws, completing 19 of 34 for 190 yards, a TD and an INT for a 69.5 passer rating. In his first start, Love didn't see the field well, and at times locked onto Davante Adams. The star receiver likely leaves the game frustrated, catching just six of 14 targets for 42 yards. Many of the balls his way were uncatchable, and the QB and WR clearly lack chemistry given their little time working together. Love caught a groove late, leading a TD drive in the fourth quarter, but the miscues for the first three quarters put them behind the eight ball. Love will undoubtedly improve with more time, but it's not outlandish to think that the Packers would have rolled to an easy victory if Aaron Rodgers played this week, given how well the Green Bay defense played.
  3. Special teams not so special. The Green Bay special teams unit cost the Packers dearly once again. It started early with a Mason Crosby missed field goal in the first quarter. The kicker then had another field goal blocked to keep the Packers scoreless. Later in the second quarter, a punt miscalculation by Amari Rodgers led to a muff after the ball went off the leg of Malik Taylor, setting the Chiefs up at the 10-yard-line before halftime. Special teams have been a weekly issue for Green Bay, and the Chiefs took advantage Sunday.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Chiefs blitzed Love at a 54.3% rate, highest in a game for Kansas City since 2018 (59.4%, Week 16 at SEA). K.C. earned eight QB pressures and a sack on 19 blitzes (42.1 pressure percentage).

NFL Research: With the victory, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid tied former Packers coach Curly Lambeau for fifth-most wins all time with 226.

Los Angeles Chargers
2021 · 5-3-0
Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 3-6-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. It was a clash of offensive opposites. There couldn't have been more contrasting styles of offense than what the Eagles and Chargers brought to one another Sunday. The run-based Eagles attack and the Justin Herbert air show traded scores into the fourth quarter with equal, if not similar, effectiveness. It made for a thrilling affair that had the game tied at 24 until the final seconds. Herbert ended a two-game mini-slump with a stellar game (32 for 38, 356 yards), on the road against the NFL's eighth-ranked pass defense. Meanwhile, the Eagles' plodding ways -- save a few big-gainer throws to DeVonta Smith -- kept up with the Chargers drive for drive. As much as any team in the NFL, however, the Eagles need to play with leads, because they're not well-suited offensively for comebacks. They trailed in this one too late into the game and, in the end, Herbert took over with 6:07 left to play and directed a drive that squeezed off 6:05 before a game-winning field goal.
  2. Staley plays keep-away with fourth-down call. Credit Chargers coach Brandon Staley with the nerve to go for a fourth-and-inches from the Philadelphia 28 with 1:45 left in the game, eschewing a field goal that would've given L.A. a 27-24 lead but also would've left time for a counter-attack by the Eagles. After an unsuccessful attempt to draw the Eagles offsides, Staley used his last timeout, then stuck with his offense as Herbert converted a first down on a sneak. That decision ultimately paid off, as the Chargers were not only able to set themselves up with a much easier field goal, but left the Eagles with 0:02 on the clock and virtually no chance for a miracle. Had Philadelphia stuffed Herbert to take over on downs, Staley might've faced some tough questions. But the Eagles offense isn't built for two-minute heroics, so the risk was a wise one.
  3. The Eagles ground game was on point. Philadelphia's rushing attack was outstanding once again, and it wasn't surprising against the worst run defense in the NFL. QB Jalen Hurts' ability to burn defenses with zone-read keepers has a strong effect on running lanes for the rest of the backfield, creating hesitation in the defensive front akin to play-action fakes. When that's the case, all Hurts must do is make the proper read, and chains will be on the move. He also beat the Chargers with a few designed runs and sprinted around the corner for first downs, including a spectacular head-over-heels dive for a late, crucial stick-mover. Hurts and Co. finished with 176 rushing yards on 39 carries. The Chargers, allowing an NFL-high 5.1 yards per carry, needed to force Hurts into obvious passing situations, and largely failed to do so.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Chargers defense pressured Hurts on seven of 18 dropbacks (38.9%).

NFL Research: Herbert has 56 touchdowns (combined passing and rushing) in his first 23 games, the third-most by a quarterback in his first 25 games since the NFL merger. Ahead of him: Patrick Mahomes (70) and Deshaun Watson (57).

Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 8-1-0
San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 3-5-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. No Kyler, no problem. Arizona trotted out Colt McCoy and a receiving corps that lacked DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday, and proceeded to rack up 437 yards of offense, go 7 for 15 on third down and dominate time of possession, 36:47-23:13. McCoy was very solid in relief of the injured Murray, taking what the defense gave him underneath on his way to completing 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown, and perhaps most importantly, avoiding any massive mistakes that would have swung the game in favor of the 49ers. McCoy did what a veteran backup is paid to do while his teammates picked him up, and a seemingly disadvantageous situation turned into a bountiful one for the Cardinals. Arizona's defense did its job, too, sacking Jimmy Garoppolo five times (three coming from Markus Golden) and forcing three turnovers, including an interception of Garoppolo that sealed a win that was realistically in hand by the midway point of the third quarter. After losing a heartbreaker, Kliff Kingsbury's crew bounced back with emphasis Sunday, informing the league these Cardinals are much more than just an exciting quarterback and a cast of weapons. They are, in fact, a complete football team.
  2. Where do the 49ers go from here? San Francisco continued its struggles at home Sunday, dropping another one at Levi's Stadium in a fashion that leaves the faithful wondering what the next steps are for a club that is still only two years removed from a Super Bowl berth. San Francisco looks nothing like the team that ran its way to an NFC title, and even with the return of George Kittle and success of supporting cast members like Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers still lagged far behind the Cardinals for most of the afternoon. It's not just about a lack of personnel anymore for the 49ers, even after they've suffered another collection of injuries. Now it's about questioning whether this club, which appeared punchless for a good portion of Sunday's game, is truly headed in the right direction. At 3-5, these are certainly fair questions to ask as we pass the midway point of the season.
  3. James Conner is making good on his bet on himself in the desert. The running back took a one-year, $1.75 million deal to join the Cardinals in a role most envisioned as a a complementary one to Chase Edmonds , Murray and the rest of the bunch, but Sunday was Conner's day to shine. The bruising back took 21 handoffs for 96 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching a screen pass and outrunning the rest of the 49ers defense for a 45-yard score. There was little Conner couldn't do on Sunday, and without Murray and Hopkins available, Conner's production was a welcome addition to Arizona's offensive efforts. A special shoutout is also due to Eno Benjamin, who flattened Dre Kirkpatrick on his way to his first career rushing score. Plenty went right for the Cardinals, who are right back on track at 8-1.

Next Gen stat of the game: Colt McCoy completed 20 of 22 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown on passes of fewer than 10 air yards.

NFL Research: Colt McCoy's 119.4 passer rating Sunday was the highest in a game in his career since Week 15 of 2010.

Denver Broncos
2021 · 5-4-0
Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 6-2-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Broncos defense smothers Cowboys' potent offense. In the first game of the post-Von Miller era, Vic Fangio's defense dominated. Denver's secondary clamped down on Dallas' talented receivers like white on rice. The front pushed the pocket, never allowing Dak Prescott to get comfortable, and got persistent pressure from the edge. Rookie Jonathon Cooper, helping replace Miller, made his presence felt, generating two sacks and five quarterback pressures. It was complete domination from Denver's D, which held Prescott to 5-of-14 (35.7%) passing and 75 yards in the first half. A Cowboys offense that came in scoring 40 points per game generated just five first downs and 122 yards with 11:18 left in the fourth quarter before garbage-time stat-packing. The Cowboys scored all their points and gained 140 of 290 yards after the game was 30-0.
  2. Denver offense rolls on the ground. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon churned out big run after big run, moving the chains. Williams ran angry all game, gobbling up 111 yards on 17 rushes, including gallops of 30, 20 and 17 yards. The rookie powered through tacklers and carried defenders. The one-two Broncos punch generated 191 rushing yards and a Gordon TD. The ground game generated 12 first downs on the afternoon, keeping the Dallas offense on the sideline and helping Denver power for four drives of 10-plus plays. Teddy Bridgewater made money strikes when needed, hitting his receivers in stride. Teddy Two Gloves was calm, dicing up the Cowboys secondary, particularly on third-and-longs. Receiver Tim Patrick picked up big first downs and caught a beautiful 44-yard TD from Bridgewater to get the blowout going. Racking up 407 yards, it was a perfectly balanced offense from Denver to steamroll a Cowboys defense that had been playing well entering Sunday.
  3. Cowboys can't get out of their own way. Dallas opened the second half trailing, 16-0, with a three-and-out and blocked a punt. However, the block was touched past the line of scrimmage by the Cowboys and recovered by Denver. By rule, Denver retained possession. The sequence deflated the home crowd and was symbolic of Dallas' bad day. The offense never found traction. Receivers dropped passes, Prescott missed throws, and the offensive line struggled to open holes. Dallas went 5 of 13 on third downs and 0 for 4 on fourth, including two early failures that set the tone for the game. The defense reverted to its 2020 ways, allowing chunk gains on the ground and open receivers on third downs. Trevon Diggs got beat several times, struggling on the day. After six straight wins, it was a complete egg-lay by Mike McCarthy's team.

Next Gen stat of the game: Dak Prescott generated a -13.4 completion percentage over expected (third-lowest by Prescott in a game since 2016, minimum 14 attempts).

NFL Research: Denver moved to 5-4 with its first win of the season against an opponent with a winning record through Week 9.

New England Patriots
2021 · 5-4-0
Carolina Panthers
2021 · 4-5-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Rookie comes through with breakout game for Patriots. Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson got his most extensive action of the season Sunday, and showed why he deserved it. On what was a pedestrian day for the New England passing attack, the rookie fourth-round pick made up the difference with a season-high 62 rushing yards on 10 carries, and another 44 receiving yards on two catches. He was integral on New England's first touchdown drive, catching a short pass for a 41-yard gain, then carrying three straight times to set up a short TD run by Damien Harris. Against a Carolina defense that excels against the pass, the Patriots needed something extra Sunday out of their running backs. Stevenson provided just that.
  2. Darned if you Darnold. Perhaps it's a little soon for Carolina to run its offense through star RB Christian McCaffrey, given that he's just come off injured reserve and hasn't played since Week 3. If that's the case, it can't happen soon enough, because a heavier reliance on quarterback Sam Darnold is becoming predictably bad. The Darnold who navigated the first few weeks of the season looking serviceable has been replaced by Trainwreck Sam, who threw a horrifically inaccurate pass that was pick-sixed for an 88-yard return that all but put the game away for the Patriots. Darnold finished 16 of 33 with three interceptions and a passer rating of 26.3. There's a still a lot of football left to play this season, but week by week, Darnold is punching his ticket for 2022 backup status -- if not sooner.
  3. Gilmore makes his mark. Stephon Gilmore was clear this week that he didn't consider a matchup against his former team, the New England Patriots, like any other game. With his inability to get a new contract from the Patriots and subsequent placement on the PUP list as motivation, Gilmore got his get-back in the form of a first-half interception. Not fooled by a pick play, Gilmore broke underneath the traffic to step in front of a Mac Jones pass intended for slot receiver Jakobi Meyers. It marked Gilmore's second interception in as many weeks for the Panthers, who added Gilmore to what was already one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. In a blowout loss, it might not have been much consolation, but in two games, Gilmore has looked a lot more valuable than the sixth-round pick the Panthers gave up for him.

Next Gen stat of the game: Carolina's Brian Burns generated two pressures, a sack and a turnover caused by pressure on 16 pass-rush downs.

NFL Research: Patriots QB Mac Jones joined Andrew Luck and Dak Prescott as the only rookies since the merger to have five-plus wins, 10-plus passing touchdowns and 2,000-plus passing yards in their first nine career games.

Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 4-4-0
New Orleans Saints
2021 · 5-3-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Matty Ice cools the Saints. After his worst performance of the season last week against the Panthers, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan bounced back in a big way. Unsupported by a running game that couldn't generate anything against the Saints' stout run defense, Ryan put it all on his shoulders and delivered. Tight end Kyle Pitts dropped a well-thrown deep ball on the Falcons' opening play, but after that, Ryan frustrated the Saints with key third-down throws, a pair of touchdown passes, and a big finish to snatch the win in the final seconds. He finished 23 of 30 for 343 yards without a turnover. With a week to prepare without star wide receiver Calvin Ridley (last week, he was an 11th-hour scratch), the Falcons passing game looked much more in sync.
  2. Heartbreaker finish kills New Orleans comeback. What was set up to be one of the most epic comeback wins of the NFL season was all but laid to waste with a single Ryan throw. The Saints trailed, 24-6, in the fourth quarter only to rally for a 25-24 lead. That's when Ryan found Cordarrelle Patterson for 64 yards down the right sideline, throwing over the top of a defense that, first and foremost, should've been playing to prevent anything over the top. The completion set up a short field goal as time expired, and Patterson ended up with 126 yards on six catches. In the end, the team that outplayed the other for three quarters got the win, but nearly collapsed late.
  3. Saints offense too slow-starting. The Atlanta coaching staff demonstrated supreme confidence in a defense that has inspired little of it this season when it went for a fourth-down conversion from its own 45, leading just 3-0 in the second quarter. The Saints defense stuffed the play for a turnover on downs, but the Falcons defense validated the decision by then forcing a three-and-out. It was that moment that signaled impotence for a Saints' offense missing playmakers not named Alvin Kamara. Yes, there was a fourth-quarter scoring flurry to come back and even briefly take the lead, but a key touchdown in that comeback was aided by 41 yards' worth of Falcons penalties. The Saints offense played dead for three quarters, and that had as much to do with the outcome as anything.

Next Gen stat of the game: Ryan completed seven of eight play-action passes for 111 yards and two scores.

NFL Research: Saints RB Alvin Kamara tied Roger Craig for the most receptions by a running back in his first five seasons in NFL history. With four catches against Atlanta, Kamara now has 358 for his career.

Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 6-2-0
Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 3-5-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. No lead is safe against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Trailing by 14 points two separate times, Baltimore didn't blink. After giving up a kick return for a touchdown to open the third quarter, going down 24-10, the Ravens ripped off 21 unanswered points to take the lead and eventually get to overtime. Jackson was superb once again in the second half and OT. The QB overcame some early bad throws, missed deep connections and lack of help in the ground game to toy with a tired Vikings defense late. Jackson went 27-of-41 passing for 266 yards, three TDs and two INTs, and led the Ravens with 120 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Jackson found Marquise Brown (9/116) repeatedly short, putting the ball in spots where the wideout could gobble up YAC. In overtime, Jackson overcame a bad-luck INT on a tremendous defensive effort by Anthony Barr. The Ravens D forced a three-and-out, and Jackson and the offense took care of the rest, getting into field-goal range for another Justin Tucker game-winner. Jackson once again showed that even when Baltimore's offense struggles for stretches, it can get hot in a hurry and lean on defenses.
  2. Big-play offense comes up short for Vikings. Kirk Cousins hit Justin Jefferson deep for a 50-yard TD on the opening drive. Dalvin Cook's 66-yard run on the second possession led to another TD as Minnesota jumped out to an early lead. Beyond the big plays on Ravens busts, however, the Vikings offense again struggled with efficiency. Cousins was under siege often and couldn't move the chains. The Vikings earned just 13 first downs on the day, compared to 36 for Baltimore, and converted on five of 14 third downs. With Minnesota unable to stay on the field in the second half, the defense was dead, playing 89 snaps. Even after Barr's big OT INT, the Vikings earned just one single yard before giving it back to Baltimore, spelling doom and the latest close loss for Mike Zimmer's club.
  3. Patrick Ricard jump-starts Ravens offense? Patrick Ricard jump-starts Ravens offense. Of all the players to wake up a sleepy offense, few would have picked Ricard. The fullback, however, made three big catches, two for first downs, and a one-yard TD to get Baltimore within a score at halftime. Entering the fourth quarter, Ricard was tied for the team lead with 35 yards on three catches. From there, Jackson, Brown, Rashod Bateman, Mark Andrews, et al. took care of the rest.

Next Gen stat of the day: Sunday was the Ravens' fourth win this season when having a win probability of 15% or lower at some point in the second half (also Week 2 vs. K.C., Week 3 at DET, Week 5 vs. IND).

NFL Research: With a 50-yard receiving TD in the first quarter, Justin Jefferson surpassed 2,000 career receiving yards in his 24th career game. He is the second-fastest player to reach 2,000 career receiving yards in the Super Bowl era, behind only Odell Beckham Jr. (21 games).

Cleveland Browns
2021 · 5-4-0
Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 5-4-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Browns spent a week stuck in the drama machine, and came out a winner. Cleveland used the days leading up to its trip to the southwestern corner of the state answering questions about Odell Beckham, the reason for his desire to be released and how the team's quarterback factored into the mess, and didn't speak much about how it intended to defeat Cincinnati. Then the Browns took the field and looked anything but dysfunctional. Without Beckham, the Browns executed their offense with little preference for one player, with Baker Mayfield targeting eight different players no more than five times. Cleveland again turned to its most trustworthy player, Nick Chubb, to hammer away at the Bengals, handing the ball to him 14 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard scoring sprint. Donovan Peoples-Jones reprised his role as a key playmaker in Beckham's absence, catching a 60-yard strike from Mayfield for a touchdown. Combined with the Browns' aggressive defensive performance, Cleveland put together its most complete performance to date just days after it appeared set to be torn down by one player's unhappiness. Kevin Stefanski said the Browns were desperate for a win and they sure played like it, flipping the narrative surrounding them and getting above .500 in the process.
  2. If last week's loss stung, this one might leave the Bengals stunned. Just two weeks ago, Cincinnati sat atop the AFC standings at 5-2, but after a surprise loss to the Jets, the Bengals were simply outmatched on Sunday. Joe Burrow threw two interceptions and the Bengals turned it over three total times, giving Cleveland short fields to build its lead. The Bengals lacked the offensive rhythm they showed for much of their hot start and looked more like Cincinnati of 2020, not the new-look Bengals that had grabbed plenty of positive momentum. After being soundly beaten at home, the Bengals will have to look inward to get up off the mat and continue fighting in a hotly contested AFC North. If anything, Cincinnati proved one thing to the football world Sunday: The Bengals aren't quite ready to go punch-for-punch with the contenders of their conference.
  3. Game balls are due to every member of Cleveland's secondary. Denzel Ward kicked things off with a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown, and rookie Greg Newsome II had the best performance of his young career, frequently breaking up targets intended for explosive youngster Ja'Marr Chase, who finished with six catches on 13 targets for just 49 yards. Undrafted rookie A.J. Green stepped up in situations in which he was in Burrow's crosshairs, and veteran nickelback Troy Hill followed suit, breaking up passes and recording two sacks in the win. A total team effort saw its best performance from a secondary that not too long ago gave up boatloads of points to the Chargers and Cardinals. Instead of trying to keep up with Burrow's air attack, the Browns kept the Bengals grounded, helping Cleveland score a much-needed, emphatic victory.

Next Gen stat of the game: Baker Mayfield completed 6 of 9 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns on attempts of 10-plus air yards.

NFL Research: The Browns are the 41st team since 1940 to score three or more touchdowns of 60-plus yards in a single game. They're the seventh team since 1940 with a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown and return touchdown of 60-plus yards in a game and first to do so since the Eagles did so in Week 5 of the 2000 season.

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. New York's defense has grown some teeth. The Giants have now strung together three straight games in which they've allowed 20 or fewer points, and after losing by a narrow margin six days earlier, they made sure it wouldn't happen a second consecutive time. The Giants repeatedly found themselves backed up in the shadow of their own goal post, yet they consistently answered the call, forcing the Raiders to settle for field goals and limiting Las Vegas to 4-of-12 on third down and 1-for-6 in red-zone opportunities. When Daniel Carlson missed a chip shot in the fourth, the defensive effort only grew stronger, and the second of Xavier McKinney's two interceptions ended Las Vegas' second-to-last chance to tie the game. With the game on the line, sixth-round rookie Quincy Roche came through, strip-sacking Derek Carr to cap a stellar defensive day for the Giants. New York still has plenty of kinks to work out offensively, but if its defense can play like this consistently, the Giants will be a tough out, just as they've been in each of the last three weeks.
  2. An emotionally taxing week proved to be too much for the Raiders to overcome. Despite gaining over 400 yards offensively, Las Vegas struggled to get into a rhythm throughout the afternoon. The Raiders watched Carr miss a layup of a touchdown pass to Darren Waller, settling for a field goal instead, a sequence that would come to define the day for Carr. The quarterback completed 30 of 46 passes, but tossed two interceptions and looked nothing like the quarterback who spent the first month of the season lighting up the scoreboard. A rushing net of 117 yards ended up being essentially meaningless thanks to the Raiders' inability to convert red-zone trips into touchdowns, finishing 1-for-6 in red zone efficiency (including 1-for-2 on goal-to-go situations). Las Vegas' struggles were worsened by a sloppy second half in which the Raiders committed five of their six total penalties, accounting for 60 penalty yards. Turnovers, penalties and a lack of execution on third down undercut their offensive effort, and a very winnable game ended up in a loss.
  3. The numbers don't dazzle, but the win is all that matters for Joe Judge's Giants. After spending the moments following a prime-time loss in Week 8 complaining about headset troubles, Judge and the Giants instead spent their energy attempting to win in grind-it-out fashion. Judge's defense did his offense plenty of favors with its three takeaways, and Daniel Jones was good enough to help New York convert 50% of third-down attempts. There was, of course, the typical Jones turnover (via a careless fumble, his 20th of his career, the most among any player since 2019), but the Giants weathered the momentum shift, holding the Raiders to a field goal on the ensuing possession. Graham Gano was clutch, going a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, and the Giants got enough from Devontae Booker (21 carries, 99 yards) to keep their offense moving enough to earn points (via field goals) and extend its slim lead. It was far from a blowout, but the wins all count the same. New York will savor its third triumph of 2021.

Next Gen stat of the game: Derek Carr completed 9 of 15 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions against the blitz on Sunday. He completed just 3 of 8 passes for 47 yards and an interception while under pressure.

NFL Research: Derek Carr threw his second pick-six of the season, both of which were go-ahead touchdowns for the opposing team. Before 2021, Carr had never thrown a go-ahead pick-six.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 2-6-0
Buffalo Bills
2021 · 5-3-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Are the Bills still the team to beat in the AFC? They entered Week 9 as one of four teams atop the conference with just two losses. Their run to the AFC title game last season provided benefit to any doubt about their credentials. But an inexplicable loss to the Jaguars raises real concern. Facing the league's worst-ranked defense by DVOA, Buffalo reached the red zone just once, on its opening possession. The Bills have emerged into one of the better rushing outfits this year but reverted to their pass-happy ways Sunday. Josh Allen, who'd been hot after a couple early-season clunkers, ran around aimlessly amid constant pressure over 50 dropbacks. While losing Zack Moss to injury in the third quarter was a legitimate setback, Buffalo will need a better Plan B on offense if it's going to make another deep playoff run.
  2. Are the Jags improving? They were down their left tackle and running back, saw their quarterback briefly exit with an injury and their placekicker miss three field goals (on the same down), and dropped a touchdown. They produced a grand total of 218 yards of offense and 3.8 yards per play while converting 2 of 13 third downs. The game ball belongs to the defense, but the win is notable for their coaching staff, particularly the head coach. Urban Meyer has now gotten the best of Sean McDermott and Brian Flores in the past three games. It's probably premature to say Jacksonville has turned a corner. Excessive unforced errors from Buffalo, including 12 penalties, decided this game more than anything. But it was an inspired effort for a Jags team that doesn't have much to play for in 2021. More of such work could be important building blocks for 2022.
  3. Josh Allen is more than just the other Josh Allen. The Jaguars linebacker had the best day of his young NFL career, tallying a team-best eight tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception and fumble recovery. That it came against the Bills QB with the same name made it humorous and historic. It should also serve as a reminder that the younger Allen is pretty good, too. He was one of the NFL's best rookie defenders in 2019, logging 10.5 sacks and disrupting opposing offenses as a 22-year-old. But a knee injury claimed half his 2020 campaign and the Jaguars' sustained struggles have made people forget what the former No. 7 overall pick can do. He was a total menace Sunday, camping out in Buffalo's backfield and helping pressure a Pro Bowl QB into his worst performance in two years. The cupboard isn't completely bare in Jacksonville, and Allen is a big reason why.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Jaguars pressured Josh Allen on 39.2% of dropbacks (the highest for Allen this season and third-highest of his career).

NFL Research: The Jaguars had three takeaways in Week 9, and just two total takeaways from Weeks 1-8. They were the first team in the Super Bowl era to have fewer than three takeaways in the first seven games of a season.

Miami Dolphins
2021 · 2-7-0
Houston Texans
2021 · 1-8-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Dolphins D saves the day. Last week's solid showing against the Bills in a loss seemingly signaled that the Dolphins' downtrodden defense was finally waking up. On Sunday, Miami seized a golden opportunity to put forth one of its best showings. In six career games, Tyrod Taylor -- back for the first time since Week 2 -- has torched the Dolphins to the tune of a 4-2 record and a 10-0 TD-INT ratio. Safety Jevon Holland had the pleasure of adding to that empty column on the game's opening drive following an errant Taylor strike toward the end zone. From there, Miami brought consistent pressure as it did versus the Bills, rattling Taylor and disrupting nearly ever ounce of Texans momentum. The unit logged a season-high three picks and five sacks, as well as a fumble recovery that snuffed a late Houston comeback bid. This game was far from pretty (nine combined turnovers, 26 total points), but the Dolphins did just enough to snap a seven-game skid.
  2. Different QB, same result. Owners of their own seven-game skid, the Texans hoped to end their slide with Taylor back under center. But, as you might've guessed, a simple QB change wasn't enough to produce a win. Following its opening-drive turnover, Houston mustered just nine points over 13 drives. Two of those ended with INTs; five ended with punts. With the already grounded run game struggling to get upfield, Taylor had little time to work his way back into the fold and Miami made sure he stayed at bay. Still, Houston had a chance to tie it late and down eight, but a pass to tight end Jordan Akins wound up being a lost fumble with 2:33 remaining. Taylor finished 24-of-43 passing for 240 yards. The schedule only gets more unforgiving from here.
  3. Fins offensive identity still Tua-be determined. Fans wondering where Miami's suddenly booming defense has been all year are likely pondering when Tua Tagovailoa will ever put together a consistent stretch of games. An early morning scratch rendered Tua a bystander and thrusted Jacoby Brissett back into the lineup. Like Taylor, Brissett threw it 43 times, but completed just two more passes for 244 yards and a TD. That score (a five-yard Mack Hollins haul just before the half) padded his numbers in an equally rough outing. Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki, the one-handed catch savant, combined for a promising 12 catches for 137 yards, but this was by no means a good day for the offense as a whole. Four sacks, two ghastly picks and a lost fumble by Myles Gaskin (who did score his first rushing TD) underscored another trying week for a group still looking to find its way.

Next Gen stat of the game: Dolphins DE Emmanuel Ogbah compiled five QB pressures and 2.5 sacks on 38 pass rushes (13.2 pressure percentage.)

NFL Research: The Texans and Dolphins combined for nine turnovers, the most in a game since the Jets (eight) and Chiefs (one) combined for nine in Week 3, 2016.

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