Wow. That’s all that can be said about Week 9, which was filled with several surprises and tremendous finishes. Let’s analyze the week by looking at some winners and losers.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons (Won 38-14 at WSH)
Here come the Falcons. After a dominating win at the previously 5-2 Redskins, Atlanta has won three straight and is 4-4 and in good position to make a playoff run. They executed in every facet of the game. Matt Ryan was efficient, and threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He wasn’t asked to do a lot, as a lot of his yards came from yards after the catch. Tevin Coleman rushed for 88 yards and 6.8 yards per carry, finally getting the Falcons run game going. He also had 68 receiving yards and two touchdowns and the Redskins had no answer for him. Rookie Calvin Ridley (71 yards, touchdown) had another great game, and Julio Jones finally caught a touchdown pass! The main takeaway from this game was the improvement of the Atlanta defense. They allowed just 14 points, pressured Alex Smith all game long, and shut down the Washington run game that had been a top ten unit coming in. With a winnable game at the Browns next week, the Falcons have a chance to over .500 thanks to this spectacular effort.
Loser: Los Angeles Rams (Lost 45-35 at NO)
With a win on Sunday, the Rams had a chance to practically lock up the number one seed by having a 2.5 game lead on the next best team. Due to their rough loss to the Saints, that number has dropped to 0.5. What’s even more concerning is the performance of their defense. Ever since corner Aqib Talib got hurt, the Rams have struggled to defend the pass. They’ve been lit up by Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, and now Drew Brees. Brees ended up 346 passing yards, thanks to poor coverage and the fact that the pass rush generated zero pressure. Cornerback Marcus Peters was supposed to become Los Angeles’ shutdown corner when acquired via trade this offseason, but he simply could not guard Michael Thomas, who had 211 yards and burnt Peters for a 72 touchdown that may have cost the Rams the game. The offense put up 35 points, but faded down the stretch with two failed drives and Jared Goff’s interception late in the first half proved costly. The Rams are still the best team in the NFC, but they better start playing better defensively soon, because they got exposed big time on Sunday. They have two big games coming up – a divisional game against the Seahawks and a date in Mexico with the explosive Chiefs, so losing this game hurts.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers (Won 25-17 at SEA)
I’ve been a strong advocate for the Chargers, as they ranked #2 in my power rankings last week and as the best team in the AFC. However, even I thought that they were in trouble heading on the road to face a tough Seahawks team. Instead, they dominated. Don’t let the score fool you, Los Angeles led by 15 late in the fourth quarter and would have had a three possession lead if they had a capable kicker. The offense continued to make big plays and had an excellent balance. Phillip Rivers (105.9 Passer Rating) was efficient and top target Keenan Allen (124 receiving yards) finally had a breakout game after struggling for the first eight weeks. On the ground, Melvin Gordon dominated with 113 rushing yards, 7 yards per carry, and a rushing touchdown. The defense held Russell Wilson in check for most of the game and had only allowed ten points up until the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. They even had a touchdown, as corner Desmond King had a clutch pick six in the fourth quarter that put the Chargers in the driver’s seat. These Chargers are scary, and they don’t even have their best player in Joey Bosa, who is dealing with a foot injury. Once he comes back, they have a chance to be the class of the AFC if not the NFL.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys (Lost 28-14 vs TEN)
In a game that started out so well, (new acquisition Amari Cooper caught a first quarter touchdown pass) the Cowboys quickly faded in an embarrassing loss to the Titans. Once again, it was the offense that failed him. Dak Prescott had 243 passing yards, but those numbers are inflated with his attempts to lead a late 14 point comeback. In reality, the Dallas offense was once again stale and conservative, even with Cooper now in the mix. The defense also couldn’t get the Titans off the field, as Tennessee converted on 78% of their third downs. They’ve been relied on so heavily this season, and there starting to show signs of wearing down because of it. In order to compete in today’s NFL, teams need to be able to be aggressive and pass the ball effectively. The Cowboys don’t do that, and may be watching the playoffs from their couch as a result. Their season will be on the line next week, as they’re on the road against the rival Eagles.
Winner: New England Patriots (Won 31-17 vs GB)
In a game that was supposed to be about two legendary quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady facing off, this matchup between the Packers and Patriots was more about how good the Patriots are than anything else. Without arguably their top two playmakers in running back Sony Michel and tight end Rob Gronkowski, New England was able to put up 31 points thanks to the performances of Josh Gordon (130 receiving yards, one touchdown) and Cordarrelle Paterson (61 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 5.5 yards per carry). Despite being off, Tom Brady still had close to 300 yards passing and a touchdown. That’s simply absurd. On top of that, the Patriots defense held an Aaron Rodgers led offense to 17 points, forced a key fumble that shifted the momentum of this game, and held Rodgers to a 89.2 passer rating – low for his standard. This win shows how deep the Patriots roster is, and at 7-2, they’re a top 3 team in football. They’ll go on the road to face off against the Titans in a game that they’ll definitely be favored to win.
Loser: Baltimore Ravens (Lost 23-16 vs PIT)
Once upon a time, the Ravens were 4-2 and looked like the top team in the AFC North. Now, they’re 4-5 and are in a rough position to win the division or even make the playoffs. How things can chance so quickly. It was same old, same old for Baltimore on Sunday. Joe Flacco had a passer rating of just 77.1, missed several open receivers (including rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the end zone), the running game couldn’t get going (3.8 yards per carry), while top receiver Michael Crabtree (32 receiving yards) had another rough game. Heck, they even misused Lamar Jackson and had no tempo on offense just to make their performance so identical to all their other offenses. Their defense looked like a top five unit earlier in the season, but it has now been exposed by the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers in three consecutive weeks. The Steelers put up nearly 400 yards of offense, converted 62% of their third downs, and sustained very long drives as Baltimore had no answer for them. Pittsburgh was in control the entire way, as the Ravens simply dug themselves into a hole they couldn’t get out of. They’ll look to crawl out of their hole after their bye next week, as a Week 11 matchup against the division rival Bengals is their last chance of competing in 2018.