Thirty-three things we learned from Week 9

Another Motor City Miracle! Matthew Stafford led yet another fourth-quarter comeback, Matt Prater kicked a 58-yard field goal to tie and Golden Tate topped Detroit's win off with a game-winning touchdown catch-and-run in overtime. Also on this episode of football: Doug Pederson refuses to kick field goals; the Jets and Dolphins play flag-happy football; and the Browns lose. Here's what we've learned from Week 9:

  1. Matthew Stafford is a late-game magician. The Detroit Lions quarterback pulled off a minor miracle to send the game to overtime. Stafford got the ball at the 25-yard line with 23 seconds left. Two plays later, he was sprinting down the field to spike the ball with two seconds left, allowing Matt Prater to bang home the 58-yarder to tie the game. The Lions got the ball to open overtime and marched 87 yards on 11 plays, capped by Golden Tate's showboating flip into the end zone on a 28-yard score. The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every single game this season. They've won five of those contests.
  1. The Vikings will kick themselves over the lost opportunities. Minnesota missed an extra point, had a blocked field goal, came up with zero points on two red-zone drives and allowed Stafford to get into field-goal range with zero timeouts and 23 seconds remaining. The most emblematic drive of the game came after a Chad Greenway interception set up Sam Bradford at the 18-yard line. From there, the Vikings proceeded to lose 22 yards and were forced to punt. It was the first time a team punted on a drive that started in the red zone since the Rams accomplished that feat in Oct. 2011. The Rams quarterback that day: Sam Bradford.
  1. The biggest takeaway from Pat Shurmur taking control of the offense following Norv Turner's departure was the use of up-tempo. The Vikings jumped into no-huddle frequently Sunday. The benefit of upping the pace helped a beleaguered offensive line by wearing out an already mediocre Lions pass rush and calmed Bradford in the pocket. While Minnesota's offense remains a herky-jerky prospect (five total yards in the second quarter), expect to see more tempo under Shurmur.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Give the Ravens defense and Roethlisberger equal credit for the ugliest offensive performance by any team this NFL season through the first 50 minutes of this game. In Pittsburgh's first 12 drives, the team had two first downs, nine three and outs and two turnovers by Big Ben. He dropped some gorgeous dimes in a frenzied fourth quarter comeback attempt from 21-0 down, which should ease fears about his health. His early struggles were more mental than physical, as the Ravens defense confused him often.
  1. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense weren't much better. They struggled to move the ball, scoring touchdowns on a slant that Wallace took 95 yards, a short field set up by turnover and a blocked punt returned for a score. Throw out Wallace's wild gallop and they gained 179 yards on 14 drives. Flacco has not looked comfortable in weeks and continued to make bad decisions.
  1. The key to Baltimore's underrated team defense is up the middle. Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan are very difficult to run on, as Le'Veon Bell (32 rushing yards on 14 carries) found this week. Middle linebacker Zach Orr consistently cleaned up plays and Eric Weddle has added stability to the secondary.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. It was fitting that Philadelphia's chances came down to fourth-and-10 in the red zone. In addition to a blocked Caleb Sturgis field-goal attempt, the Eagles left six points on the board when coach Doug Pederson eschewed a pair of easy field-goal attempts, opting to run the ball on fourth down instead. Pederson explained to FOX's Erin Andrews at halftime that he wanted to set an aggressive tone and would continue that mode of attack in the second half. The aggressiveness finally paid off with a fourth-and-nine conversion that led to a field goal in the fourth quarter, but it was ultimately too little too late.
  1. The Eagles moved the ball better than they have in a month, but spent the afternoon playing catchup after Carson Wentz unfurled interceptions under pressure on Philadelphia's first two possessions. After completing fewer deep passes than any other quarterback the past two weeks, Wentz dialed up seven different plays of 20 or more yards versus the Giants, resulting in a career-high 364 passing yards. The majority of the damage was done by Matthews and the tight-end duo of Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, as young wideouts Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham continued to struggle in the playmaking department.
  1. Eli Manning generated as many touchdown passes (four) as the previous four games combined, but that's not to suggest the Giants have solved their offense's recent woes. Following Sterling Shepard's 32-yard touchdown grab on the first possession of the third quarter, the final four second-half drives produced fewer than 50 yards combined. An already inept ground attack that has failed to top 60 yards in any game over the past calendar month lost its best offensive lineman when guard Justin Pugh went down with a knee sprain.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Frustrated Rams fans were screaming for Jared Goff long before halftime, but coach Jeff Fisher refused to call on the No. 1 pick in the draft. Placeholder quarterback Case Keenum played from wire-to-wire, generating zero points over the team's first nine drives. We get it -- the Rams don't believe Goff is ready -- but it's nearly impossible to watch this offense. Los Angeles went six-plus scoreless quarters -- dating back to their London game with the Giants -- before punching in a field goal with 8:01 left in Sunday's game.
  1. The Panthers had problems of their own, with Cam Newton absorbing a string of monstrous hits for a Carolina offense that was forced into six punts and held to just 5.1 yards per play. Newton successfully found tight end Greg Olsen in the end zone for the team's only touchdown, but the Panthers had no answer for Aaron Donald and a fierce Los Angeles pass rush that swarmed the pocket and pounded Cam with five sacks. Carolina's ground game was no help, managing just 60 yards at 2.5 yards per rush against a stout Rams front seven.
  1. Strengthening his case for Defensive Player of the Year, Donald piled up a pair of takedowns and three tackles for loss in a dominant showing against Carolina's front five. If voters want to see more gaudy numbers, they aren't watching just how disruptive this force of nature has been on a weekly basis.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. If nothing else, the game perfectly illustrated why both teams are in a tight battle for last place in the division. Miami handed the Jets a late lead thanks to a botched catch by punter Matt Darr only to gain it back again on the ensuing kickoff. A 96-yard kickoff return by Kenyan Drake was made possible thanks to ... an offsides penalty on the original kickoff by Antonio Allen. Both teams were pushing 10 penalties apiece on Sunday, with the ultimate difference being a pair of ill-timed interceptions by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
  1. Speaking of Fitzpatrick, that should be it for the gun-slinging journeyman. It's been a pleasure. Watching Fitzpatrick play when he's rolling is akin to admiring a great playground athlete. He's daring, with a vintage rambling quality to his game. But now, the team is 3-6. They will almost certainly miss the playoffs and fade into the background without much noise down the stretch. Unless Sunday's backup Bryce Petty is entirely incapable, the team needs to discover what they have -- and potentially activate 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg on game day to simulate a more intense preparation. The future is now.
  1. Our resident scouting expert Bucky Brooks helped peg nicely the rise of Jay Ajayi this week, noting that the Dolphins' scheme finally came to meet the running back's desire to make one-cut attacks from seven or eight yards deep. That was evident when the bruiser put up 111 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown against the Jets on Sunday. While it wasn't another 200, it may have been the most encouraging performance by the promising young power back yet.

-- Conor Orr

  1. A more intense Colts squad simply outplayed the Packers in all three phases, starting with a 99-yard Jordan Todman kickoff return to kickstart the festivities. Green Bay's only two sacks came via safety blitzes, as Indianapolis' beleaguered offensive line held up long enough to allow Andrew Luck to overcome the first multi-interception opening quarter of his career. Luck led four scoring drives, including a 15-play, 96-yard gem to stake the Colts to their largest halftime lead (14) in two years. The quarterback's masterpiece, though, was a game-clinching drive in which he shook off a Haha Clinton-Dix sack to hit Jack Doyle for 20 yards on third-and-long. Three plays later, he beat the third-down blitz again with a 27-yard toss to T.Y. Hilton that allowed the Colts to run out the clock and keep a white-hot Rodgers on ice.
  1. After reviving a struggling aerial attack with a short, quick-hitting approach the past two weeks, Aaron Rodgers spent most of the afternoon waiting for his wideouts to win isolation routes versus the stingy man coverage of Indianapolis' cornerback quartet (Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, Darius Butler and Rashaan Melvin). By the middle of the third quarter, Jordy Nelson and tight end Richard Rodgers had combined for 109 yards on eight catches compared to eight yards on three catches for the rest of the receiving corps.
  1. Down 31-13 with less than 10 minutes remaining, a masterful Rodgers marched down the field, directing back-to-back touchdown drives of less than two minutes apiece. Although the three-yard touchdown pass to Cobb was a perfectly placed laser, it was not Rodgers' best throw of the day. A potential 75-yard touchdown bomb went to waste in the second quarter of a one-score game when Jeff Janisdropped it in-stride with a step on Vontae Davis. It was a back-breaking flub for the Packers.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Sunday was never in question for the surging and complete Cowboys. Dallas put together two clock-chewing, carefree touchdown marches over their first three drives to effectively end this tilt 20 minutes in. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott (21 of 27 for 247 yards and three scores) delivered another pristine performance while first-year star running back Ezekiel Elliott did the rest, rampaging for 92 yards and a touchdown at 5.1 yards per attempt against Cleveland's tackle-averse defense. The Browns are far from an NFL measuring stick, but it was impressive to see Dallas carve up the enemy with ease while using every weapon in the toolbox.
  1. Recently acquired linebacker Jamie Collins endured a rude awakening in his Browns debut, getting caught in coverage against Witten, who burned the former Patriots playmaker for a 26-yard touchdown. The Browns have struggled against tight ends all season, and Witten continued the trend with 134 yards off eight catches -- topping the 100-yard barrier just 31 minutes into the game. As for Collins, he finished with eight tackles and a nice tackle for loss on a play that saw him dump Elliott to the turf.
  1. The Browns would need an angry, spiraling asteroid to take out three-quarters of America for a chance at the playoffs. With half the season remaining, the task in Cleveland is clear: Take a long and honest look at this extremely young roster, including rookie passer Cody Kessler. The third-rounder looked the way he has all season, unfurling his share of heady, low-risk throws for 203 yards at 7.5 yards per pass. It helped to have rookie Corey Coleman (3/41) back in the lineup, but Kessler continued to lean on wideout Terrelle Pryor (5/47/1) and tight end Gary Barnidge (3/23).

*-- Marc Sessler *

  1. When the Raiders' O-line wasn't frustrating Von Miller and Co., it was pummeling interior defensive lineman with powerful run blocking. Anchored by Latavius Murray, Oakland rushed for 223 yards, the most Denver's front has allowed since Week 5 of 2012. Murray recorded three scores and rushed for 114 yards on 5.7 yards per carry after having not rushed for over 60 yards in a game all season. Of course, the back's surprising night was facilitated by the dominance of the left side of Oakland's line (Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson), through which Murray and speed demon Jalen Richard ran play after play. Regarded as a big-play, pass-heavy offense through the first half of the season, the Raiders offered a glimpse on Sunday at what might be to come: a physical, hard-nosed, balanced attack.
  1. Denver's defense lost this matchup by playing the worst kind of Raider football. The Broncos crippled themselves with drive-extending penalties all night, committing three holding and interference calls on Oakland's final scoring drive. Without Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, Denver's defensive backs were gasping for air and grasping at straws in the fourth quarter, worn down by the Raiders' consistent run game and an insane time of possession advantage (41:28 to 18:32). The Broncos finished with 12 penalties for 104 yards on the night.
  1. Khalil Mack is back. Overshadowed this season by Miller's hot start and his own team's offense, Mack unnerved Trevor Siemian on Sunday night, sacking him twice to up his season sack total to seven. Bruce Irvin won't show up on the stat sheet, but his complementary pressure on the other side of the line was equally effective. Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe get all the publicity, but Mack and Irvin outperformed them this week.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Melvin Gordon's spectacular sophomore season continued against the Titans. Displaying patience and tackle-shedding ability, the Chargers running back ran for a career-high 196 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per tote, and scored his league-leading 11th touchdown. His 259 yards from scrimmage is the second-highest total this season (Julio Jones, 300). With no Dexter McCluster to steal snaps, Gordon was San Diego's workhorse and paced the Chargers on their long scoring drives. Gordon sealed his transcendent outing with a 47-yard scamper on which he broke two full-body tackles just two plays after hobbling off the field.
  1. Tennessee wins and loses on the sails of Marcus Mariota, for better or worse. The Titans quarterback was again perfect in the red zone, throwing three touchdowns; he has yet to throw an INT in the red zone in 21 career games. But Mariota sunk a promising Titans second-half comeback with two killer turnovers -- a speed option fumble and a pick six -- both of which were taken back for touchdowns. Mariota had thrown just one interception during the Titans' 3-1 four-game stretch, but it was his two critical errors that overshadowed an otherwise solid outing.
  1. DeMarco Murray came into Sunday as the league's second-leading rusher, but he was neutralized early and often by the Chargers. Led by Korey Toomer (nine tackles), Corey Liuget and Brandon Flowers, San Diego stuffed Murray in the first half and forced the Titans to abandon the run early in the second half. Murray came on late to finish with 51 rushing yards -- his worst showing since Week 1 -- but was reduced to a short-game passing option. The loss of Derrick Henry, who didn't record a single rush after hurting his calf in pregame warmups, turned out to be a huge factor.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. If we were looking for an example of high-flying, aesthetically pleasing football, we failed miserably in Kansas City. The CBS broadcast team's first postgame question for Chiefs quarterback Nick Foles began with "Nick, we know it wasn't pretty at times ..." and that ugliness didn't spare Foles, who was making his first start as a Chief in place of the injured Alex Smith. Instead of appearing as the calm, cool and collected Foles from last week in Indianapolis, the quarterback was frequently inaccurate, coming up short on some and narrowly avoiding what should have been an interception, if it wasn't for Jacksonville's Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamaracolliding in pursuit of the same pass. The Chiefs are better with Smith, and with Spencer Ware, whom they also missed dearly in the running game.
  1. Jacksonville lost this game as much as Kansas City won it. The Jaguars twice handed gifts to the Chiefs, fumbling a punt return deep in Jacksonville territory to set up Foles and Co., which capitalized with a touchdown pass to Albert Wilson. Jacksonville, on multiple occasions, dropped passes in the open field that would have gone for big gains. No one was immune from the disappointments except for Marquise Lee, who has assembled three games of 60-plus receiving yards in his last four, finishing with four receptions for 84 yards.
  1. Not all waist-hung cloth is made equal. That's what Travis Kelce learned on Sunday. The tight end was tossed from the game early in the fourth after rebelling against officials in a colorful tirade that included the tossing of his towel at a zebra. One thing is for certain: Kansas City needs its playmakers back to avoid a similar performance in weeks ahead, in which they might not be as fortunate. It's much murkier in Jacksonville, which has a laundry list of issues that need to be addressed by Gus Bradley before he's shown the door.

-- Nick Shook

  1. Points -- points for everyone! That was the tone of the first half, when Drew Brees threw for two touchdowns and Mark Ingram rushed for two more. Colin Kaepernick countered with two touchdown passes of his own, including a 65-yard catch and run by tight end Vance McDonald. The two teams combined for a league-high 51 first-half points. And then, it screeched to a halt. The big plays for the Niners disappeared, and we saw just one touchdown in the second half and 13 total points combined.
  1. Michael Thomas has arrived. The rookie wideout caught two touchdown passes, with the second being a 32-yard score that left fans in the stands and viewers at home slack-jawed. Thomas showed a penchant for the incredible when at Ohio State, and he's proving New Orleans right in selecting him 47th overall in the draft. The rookie finished with five catches, 73 yards and two touchdowns, and pushed past the halfway-to-1,000 mark with 573 yards on the season. Sunday was his first multi-touchdown game of his pro career. And really, just watch that catch. With Thomas, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks, Brees' passing attack seems poised to flourish in the coming weeks.
  1. After starting off 1-3, it seems as though the Saints are starting to figure it out. A win over the hapless Niners isn't much of a statement, but last week's close victory over Seattle sure sent a message, and New Orleans' avoidance of a letdown game this week is very encouraging for Sean Payton's squad. Their defense still struggles and allows almost any offense to score with ease. But the halftime adjustments and improvement in shutting down San Francisco in the second half is another sign of life, a week after limiting Seattle to 20 points.

-- Nick Shook

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