What We Learned From Week 9 of the N.F.L. Season
Kansas City had to sweat a little against Carolina, Buffalo throttled Seattle and Baltimore’s defense carried the team against Indianapolis. Sunday’s early games saw mostly favorites triumph, but there was plenty of excitement.
Here’s what we learned:
Buffaloes can hibernate. Remember how great the Buffalo offense looked during the team’s thrilling 4-0 start to the season? Josh Allen and Co. threw away much of that momentum by going entirely dormant over a forgettable four-game stretch in which the team went 2-2. But with the sun shining brightly in Orchard Park, N.Y., and with plenty of help from Seattle’s inept defense, the Bills roared back to life in a 44-34 win that didn’t feel anywhere near that close. It was Buffalo’s first game with 40 or more points since 2018 and gave Josh Allen the second 400-yard passing game of his career. The Bills improved to 7-2, which matches the team’s best nine-game start since 1993.
While the offensive output was nice, Buffalo was probably just as excited by a defensive performance in which the Bills, who have disappointed on that side of the ball all season, had five sacks, 11 quarterback hits and forced four turnovers against the top-scoring offense in the N.F.L.
Dalvin Cook would be in the M.V.P. conversation if his team was better. Cook had 226 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in Minnesota’s upset win over Green Bay last week, and he was right back at it on Sunday with 252 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in an easy 34-20 victory over Detroit. Cook’s 206 yards rushing were a career high and he increased his N.F.L. lead to 13 total touchdowns, which is three more than Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill in second place. The Most Valuable Player Award will likely come down to Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, with Mahomes probably pulling into the lead following Sunday’s win. But if the Vikings weren’t 3-5, you’d have to at least consider if Cook’s incredible season was worthy.
A breakdown of the interception in #BALvsIND: pic.twitter.com/eteo6CPctq
An interception can look a lot like an incomplete pass. Indianapolis was leading by 10-7 early in the third quarter when the team forced a fumble and took over at its own 23-yard line with a chance to increase its lead. On the first play of the drive, Philip Rivers attempted a pass to Marcus Johnson that was briefly in the hands of Baltimore cornerback Marcus Peters before falling harmlessly to the turf. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass, contending that Peters took multiple steps with the ball before losing control of it, and the officials — somewhat shockingly — agreed with him, a decision that league officials confirmed was correct. Ten plays after the interception, Baltimore, which struggled offensively for most of the game, punched the ball into the end zone with a 1-yard run from Gus Edwards, giving the Ravens a lead they would not relinquish and a crucial win on the road.
Alex Smith might be back for real this time. It was an emotional and amazing moment when Smith returned to the field in Week 5 after missing nearly two years following a horrifying leg break. But Smith’s Hollywood-like story took a hit when he played poorly and went right back to the bench. Smith got another chance on Sunday after an injury to Kyle Allen, and at times he looked a lot like the player who had so much success in San Francisco and Kansas City. He threw for 325 yards — his first 300-yard game since Nov. 4, 2018 — and while he threw three interceptions in Washington’s 23-20 loss to the Giants, the Footballers outscored their division rival by 17-13 after the quarterback switch. With Allen’s injury looking fairly serious, Smith could start next week against Detroit.
Jake Luton just might stick around. Luton, a sixth-round pick in 2020 out of Oregon State, had big jorts to fill in Jacksonville when filling in for the injured Gardner Minshew, and while he ultimately couldn’t pull off an upset of Houston, he did enough to earn another start next week. The second pass of Luton’s pro career went for a 73-yard touchdown to D.J. Chark, and with the game on the line in the final two minutes, Luton spun and bullied his way to a 13-yard touchdown that got his team within a 2-point conversion of tying the game (the conversion failed). He threw for 304 yards, making him just the 10th quarterback in N.F.L. history to throw for 300 or more yards in his first N.F.L. appearance.
No word yet on whether Luton can match Minshew as a fashion icon.
It was a good day to be a beleaguered defense. Coming into the day, Tennessee, Minnesota and Houston made up three of the bottom eight teams in the N.F.L. in terms of yards allowed per game. Each’s defensive unit had been seen as the Achilles’ heel of their teams. But all three teams saw their defense do its part to secure much-needed victories. The Titans got three sacks, nine quarterback hits and a 63-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Bears. The Vikings pulled down three interceptions against Detroit and the Texans struggled at times but came up with a game-saving stop on a 2-point conversion in the closing minutes of a 27-25 victory.
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