One of the most dramatic news weeks in recent NFL history was capped by a batch of Sunday games that were equally stunning, entertaining and unpredictable.
Underdogs rose up across the league in Week Nine, including the Tennessee Titans. Their 6-2 record going into their game in Los Angeles showed they were no mugs, but few were giving them a chance against the 7-1 Rams. And that’s where this column begins…
Five Major Takeaways from Week Nine
1) Titans win another way
The Tennessee Titans had not won a football game without a guy called Derrick Henry in the line-up since 2015. But they had to enter a dragon’s den of sorts in Los Angeles on Sunday Night Football and find a way to slay the fire-breathing Rams. And most of us expected the pattern to be the same if the Titans were to find a way to win.
Brian Baldinger reacts to the news that the Tennessee Titans will be without star running back Derrick Henry for several weeks due to a broken foot
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We expected the Titans to stick with the running game, only this time behind 36-year-old veteran Adrian Peterson, and throw play-action passes off that; giving quarterback Ryan Tannehill easier looks in the passing game.
But the Titans only rushed for 69 yards as a team (their leading rusher was D’Onta Foreman with 29) and Tannehill threw for 143 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Yet Tennessee won 28-16 and it was their defense that was the driving force.
Highlights of the Tennessee Titans against the Los Angeles Rams in Week Nine of the NFL
Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry combined for four-and-a-half sacks of Matthew Stafford, and David Long and Kevin Byard pounced for two game-changing interceptions in 26 first-half seconds. Good teams find a way to win and these Titans are well-coached, resilient and more than just good.
2) Jaguars shock the world!
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ 9-6 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon is why the NFL actually play the games and don’t just run computer simulations based on prior form and current strength of the teams. The computer would most definitely have said “no” when asked if Jacksonville could win in Week Nine.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence celebrate after beating the Buffalo Bills
Buffalo came into this contest as the number one scoring team in the league, averaging 32 points per game. Jacksonville were ranked 28th in points allowed, giving up 29 per game. It was not a rosy picture for Urban Meyer’s team.
But they did what so many defenses are doing this year. They took away the big play from Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen and forced him to be patient when moving the ball down the field. That requires discipline and Allen failed on that front, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble. Two of those turnovers came from Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen, who also had a sack. He took the whole ‘Josh Allen’ thing personally on Sunday, that’s for sure!
Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen registered a hat-trick of a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery against his namesake, Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills quarterback
3) Denver beat Dallas with ease
Who was giving the Denver Broncos a chance to beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday? Not me, that’s for certain. Dak Prescott was back at quarterback for ‘America’s Team’ and Mike McCarthy’s side had not lost since opening night in Tampa Bay.
Nobody told Vic Fangio that his Broncos didn’t have a shot though and the wily coach dialled up a defensive game plan that kept the Cowboys – and Prescott in particular – on their heels all night long. What was most surprising about this 30-16 win is that it wasn’t even close. Denver were up 30-0 with six minutes remaining before Dallas picked up a couple of consolation touchdowns.
Watch Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tim Patrick against the Dallas Cowboys
This was a complete team win for the Broncos. The defense sacked Prescott twice and picked him off once. Teddy Bridgewater, meanwhile, threw for a tidy 249 yards and one touchdown and Denver rushed for 190 yards and two scores.
As I watched this one unfold, I kept wondering when Dallas would fight back and they simply never did. Stunning.
4) Cardinals send a message
There was quite a major bump in the road being travelled by the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. They were coming off their first loss of the season and heading to play a division rival with star quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins out injured.
Some Arizona Cardinals trickery led to a 33-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Christian Kirk against the San Francisco 49ers
Early in the contest against the San Francisco 49ers, the Cards suffered further adversity when running back Chase Edmonds went down with a high ankle sprain. They didn’t miss a beat though behind the neat passing of veteran backup QB Colt McCoy and the playmaking versatility of James Conner, who touched the ball 26 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a league-leading 11 on the season.
Arizona romped to a 31-17 victory that was largely comfortable. To do that without your two best players is mightily impressive. This team is now back at the top of the NFC seedings and with only two teams with winning records (Rams and Cowboys) remaining on their schedule, the Cards are in great shape to make a run.
Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin trucks over San Francisco 49ers cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on a 21-yard touchdown run
5) Browns respond!
The Cleveland Browns had endured a tumultuous week by the time they stepped onto the field to face the Cincinnati Bengals in the ‘Battle of Ohio’ on Sunday. The fallout between quarterback Baker Mayfield and star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. escalated to the point where OBJ is now no longer on the team.
How would the Browns respond? There would have been Baker guys and Odell guys in their locker room, so would we see a divided team in a key game against the Bengals? Well, it certainly looked like 53 guys pulling in the same direction as Cleveland registered an emphatic 41-16 win.
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb torches the Cincinnati Bengals defense on this 70-yard touchdown run
Baker was rock solid in throwing for 218 yards and two touchdowns but the real stars of the night were on the defensive side of the ball. Led by Myles Garrett, the Browns recorded five sacks of Joe Burrow. On the back end, the secondary came up with two interceptions and forced a fumble while holding the dangerous Ja’Marr Chase to just six receptions for 49 yards.
Player of the Week: Jeffery Simmons
Jeffery Simmons takes down Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford during his dominant display on Sunday night
With Aaron Donald watching on from the other sideline, Tennessee’s own dominant interior defensive lineman turned in a display that number 99 would have been proud of.
Jeffery Simmons recorded three sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for losses for the Titans in their win over the Rams. He also provided the pressure up the middle for Matthew Stafford’s interception, thrown from his own endzone, that gifted Tennessee a short field for the first touchdown of the game.
That was as disruptive a pass-rushing performance as I have seen in the NFL this season and if it hadn’t been such a disappointing night for the Rams, Donald might even have nodded in approval.
Play of the Week
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward picks off Joe Burrow and returns it for a 99-yard touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals made a very positive start to their contest with Cleveland, marching down the field on 10 plays to set up a 3rd-and-Goal from the three-yard line. The 11th play could very well have been a Cincinnati touchdown as Joe Burrow fired in the direction of Chase on an out route near the goal line. Instead, the Browns grabbed the momentum that would never be relinquished as Denzel Ward – who was excellent the entire game – jumped the pass, intercepted Burrow and raced 99 yards for the touchdown. It was a 14-point swing and the Browns never looked back!
Coach of the Week: Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick has masterminded a New England Patriots win streak that has them again hunting for a playoff spot in the AFC
We tend to give coaching awards to everyone but Bill Belichick because his greatness is already assumed. But let’s give a nod to the GOAT here who has led the New England Patriots to three-straight wins and victories in four of their last five. They are now breathing down Buffalo’s neck in the AFC East.
Belichick loves facing young quarterbacks and Sam Darnold was the latest target, who threw three interceptions for the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s 24-6 beating. His team is not flashy, nor loaded with elite talent across the board, but they have played themselves into form and into the playoff picture.
New England confound quarterbacks on a weekly basis and they know how to go and get the football. On offense, they run the ball well behind a physical line and rookie quarterback Mac Jones is improving. Belichick deserves a load of credit for getting this team into a competitive state.
On my Radar
Cincinnati Bengals star rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been slowed the last couple of weeks in back-to-back losses
The early-season form of Cincinnati rookie wide receiver Chase was historic and fun to watch. But he has been shut down in the last two weeks as defenses put greater emphasis on removing him from Cincinnati’s attack.
The Bengals are still going his way as Chase has been targeted 22 times in defeats to the New York Jets and the Browns, yet he has only caught nine passes for 81 yards and one touchdown. All three Bengals turnovers on Sunday involved Chase – he was targeted on the two interceptions and also lost a fumble.
I refuse to believe Chase has hit the dreaded rookie wall already, so how will he respond? This is not only going to be key for his development, Cincinnati’s fight for a playoff berth is going to depend on getting their star man going again.
Join Neil Reynolds and guests for Inside The Huddle, every Tuesday from 9pm on Sky Sports NFL for a look back on the best of the weekend’s NFL action.