Sunday’s slate of games marked the NFL’s official descent into the latter half of the season. If Week 9’s performances from three formerly stout defenses are any indication, it’s going to be a long ride to January in Denver, New York, and Tampa Bay.
The Broncos, Giants, and Buccaneers suffered sloppy losses that were all but decided before halftime. Disinterested defenses appeared to play at half speed as potentially playoff-bound opponents found themselves drifting into the latter two quarters of a game that suddenly had run out of stakes. Tailbacks got all the touches they could handle as the Eagles, Saints, and Rams jogged to the finish line in blowout fashion.
For the Broncos, Sunday’s result was a damning loss that puts their playoff path on a long and winding road. In Tampa, the Buccaneers may need to win out just to find a wild card berth in the postseason. And the Giants’ rotten season remained rotten. So here’s how it all happened — with a cameo from the Texans mixed in for good measure.
The Broncos are a mess on offense (a given) and on defense (what?)
Denver’s slow digression from Super Bowl champion to upper-tier draft pick holder warped forward on Sunday. A 51-23 loss to the Eagles not only convinced AFC West foes to erase the circle they’d put around their upcoming games against the Broncos, but it also proved the legitimacy of Philadelphia’s suddenly scary offense. Excluding kneeldowns, the Eagles averaged 6.6 yards per play against a once-feared defense.
Denver had been the most efficient teams in the league after holding opponents to 4.5 yards per play this fall. That 6.6 number is 2017 Patriots-defense-level bad. No opponent had scored more than 29 points against the Broncos this season. Jay Ajayi’s 45-yard touchdown run with a minute to play in the second quarter gave the Eagles 31 before the game’s halfway point.
Maybe that’s why Denver looked so lethargic in the second half. Philadelphia came out of the locker room and made no effort to disguise a run-heavy offensive attack designed to grind down the clock and extend its possessions. The Eagles’ first possession of the second half featured nine running plays and four passes; it ended with 65 rushing yards, one touchdown, and nearly half a quarter of play burned off the clock.
The Broncos defense did get at least one highlight out of the second half — a strip sack touchdown that cut the Philly lead to 21. Unfortunately, it came against backup QB Nick Foles:
Head coach Vance Joseph wouldn’t attribute the Eagles’ ability to impose their will on the game late on his team quitting — but he didn’t exactly discount it either.
“Every man has to do a self-check of himself, OK? And only each man would know what his heart said to him in the fourth quarter. That’s where I’ll leave that.”
To be fair, Joseph also said that Brock Osweiler, the starting quarterback who completed just 50 percent of his passes and threw a pair of interceptions “did a fine job,” so maybe he’s not an entirely reliable source.
There’s nothing good about the Giants right now
For 15 brief minutes, the Giants were competitive with the Rams. Then, their defense put together an ambitious interpretation of a dying phone trying to run Waze.
New York did its best to puff up Jared Goff’s confidence, providing the backdrop for the greatest game of his career in a 51-17 burial. The second-year passer threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns as Los Angeles kept its surprising march toward the postseason moving at Eli Manning’s expense.
There was no shortage of demoralizing play for the Giants. The Rams led only 10-7 in the second quarter when Robert Woods became the first player in 28 years to convert a third-and-30-plus yard situation. His screen pass touchdown from 53 yards out signaled the end of New York’s time as a competitor in Sunday’s game:
In two quarters, Los Angeles found a way to drop 41 points on an increasingly apathetic Giants defense. Head coach Ben McAdoo, however, was adamant his defense didn’t and wouldn’t quit in the midst of a lost season:
Coach McAdoo: At the end of the day, the players did not quit. They had fight in them...we're going to stick together. #NYGiants— New York Giants (@Giants) November 6, 2017
Though he’s open to making some personnel changes.
“We have eight ball games left. We’ve got to keep fighting,” he told the media in his postgame press conference. “I think it’s a great opportunity for some players who didn’t think they’d be playing a lot of football at this point, to see what they’re made of. To see what they’re capable of. To see if they can be part of our future.
“You learn a lot about people in times like this.”
At least what he said after the 34-point loss was better than his halftime speech.
The Jameis Winston-less Buccaneers got ugly
Winston left the game against the Saints due to a shoulder injury, but the third-year quarterback was still able to make his presence felt.
Not in a good way:
Winston reinjured his shoulder after taking a brutal hit in the second quarter, ceding his snaps to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the process. The Tampa Bay defense appeared to know exactly how bad an omen that was. The Saints’ first two drives after Winston’s departure ended in touchdowns. The third failed to put points on the board only when Wil Lutz’ 43-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
From that point on, New Orleans attempted only one pass — that sailed farther than arm’s length from the line of scrimmage — instead opting to sit on a 30-3 lead that gave fans little impetus to keep watching. The only drama came from anticipating whether the two NFC South rivals would get into another skirmish on the field.
The frustration wasn’t limited to an injured Winston.
“We are very bad,” wide receiver Mike Evans, who somehow wasn’t ejected for leveling Marshon Lattimore in the above clip, told reporters after the game. “We are too talented to be 2-6. We are in a bad spot and have to come together. Time is running out.”
Evans is right. The Bucs appeared to be on the upswing for 2017 after narrowly missing the postseason last fall at 9-7. While Winston has made steady progress in his third season as a starter, the Tampa Bay defense — ranked 29th in the league in defensive efficiency before Sunday’s thumping — has sunk the franchise to the bottom of the NFC South.
Honorable mention in the field of failure: Houston Texans
The Texans knew they had only one player to stop on the Colts roster. And they couldn’t stop him.
Former All-Pro wideout T.Y. Hilton is the name listed on bold in an Indianapolis lineup that features the Patriots’ former third-string QB behind center, a 34-year-old running back, and a cache of receivers who would be relegated to third or fourth option on a winning team. Despite knowing who Jacoby Brissett was going to target all afternoon, Houston still allowed him to burn them for 44 percent of the team’s total yardage and 100 percent of its touchdowns in a 20-14 home loss.
The Texans’ issues were especially unforgivable on Hilton’s second touchdown pass — an 80-yarder that found its way to the end zone after Houston defenders neglected to touch the downed Colt:
That inability to stop Hilton loomed large late in the game, but in the end, the loss doesn’t fall on the defense:
O'Brien: "Our defense kept us in the game. Special teams did a good job. Just not very good offensively."— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) November 5, 2017
Houston struggled without Deshaun Watson, as backup quarterback Tom Savage’s inability to make big plays neutered his team. The Texans had averaged 39 points per game in Watson’s last five starts. On Sunday, against a bad Colts team, Savage’s offense managed only 14.