Week 7 of the 2019 season didn’t change much at the top or bottom of the NFL. The Dolphins and Bengals, despite flashes of competence, remained winless. The 49ers overcame a downpour to outlast Washington and stay undefeated, while the Patriots are 9.5-point favorites in their Monday night matchup against the Jets.
The creamy middle of the league, however, remains tumultuous. The Colts climbed to the top of the AFC South by beating the Texans. The Chiefs offered both the Raiders and Chargers a shot at their spot atop the AFC West following Patrick Mahomes’ knee injury, only for both to fall short on Sunday. The Saints embarrassed the Bears’ offense in a game that, somehow, made Chicago pine for the good ol’ days of Jay Cutler.
So who won the week after an action packed Sunday? Winners, as always, aren’t just for those who finished the game with more points than the other guys. True victory can escape the boundaries of box scores, just like it did for a handful of talented teams and players this Sunday.
It wasn’t: the Bengals, who are probably done with Andy Dalton once 2019 is over
Dalton was put in a tough space in 2019. His Bengals spent the offseason chasing away Marvin Lewis (which is good!) and then chasing down underwhelming free agents who didn’t make the team better in any appreciable way (which is bad). Ankle surgery has kept A.J. Green out for the first half of the season, while John Ross’ third year breakout was abruptly cut short by a broken collarbone in Week 4.
Dalton responded by turning players like Auden Tate and Alex Erickson into 100+ yard receiving threats. And by throwing interceptions. Especially on Sunday.
Yannick Ngakoue’s pick-six was just one of three Dalton turnovers that helped turn a fourth-quarter lead into Cincinnati’s 14th loss in its last 15 games. The QB’s TD:INT ratio is now stuck at an even 8:8. On the plus side, he was his team’s leading rusher in Week 7 by a long shot.
Ew. The Bengals are very, very sad this year. The good news is they’re trending toward a premier draft slot next spring — and they can release Dalton in 2020 without any dead money remaining on their salary cap. You know, if that’s their thing.
Now, on to ...
This week’s actual winners
11. The Dolphins, who are trying very hard
It’s not about actual wins in Miami — the Dolphins are best served in 2019 by becoming the league’s third-ever 0-16 team and clearing their path to the top of the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, this fall is about moral victories for the game’s most hopeless team. To wit:
TOUCHDOWN MIAMI DOLPHINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— The Phinsider (@thephinsider) October 20, 2019
FITZPATRICK TO PARKER!!!!!!!!!!!
DOLPHINS HAVE TWO LEADS IN ONE GAME!!!!!!!!!!!
This was the first time in 2019 that Miami had regained a lead. The Dolphins led for 26:44 of game time Sunday, nearly seven times longer than the amount of time they’d led through the previous six weeks of the season (3:46, all against the Chargers in Week 4). That’s ... something. Right?
10. Pat O’Donnell, whose ability to understand how screwed he was saved the Bears five points
Pat O’Donnell was in the middle of a disastrous play when the ball rolled toward him in the end zone. The Bears’ punter had just been exploded by the Saints’ special teams, who blocked his kick and sent it bouncing toward the back line. O’Donnell had a chance to dive on the ball for the recovery, but was surrounded by rabid New Orleans defenders. Any miss would turn the play into an almost-certain touchdown for the Saints.
So rather than trust his hands, O’Donnell scooped the ball out of the end zone and ceded two points instead of risking seven.
it's technically an illegal bat from Pat O'Donnell here, but the result is the same -- safety for the Saints.— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 20, 2019
smart play from the Bears' punter, who was totally screwed either way pic.twitter.com/B5y1SDHbKZ
The play was flagged as an illegal bat, but that ruling didn’t change the outcome. New Orleans got its safety, but couldn’t do anything on the ensuing possession, effectively making O’Donnell’s quick thinking worth five points. Without that effort, Chicago would have lost by 16 instead of just 11!
9. Jalen Ramsey, whose cure for a sore back was escaping football purgatory
Ramsey hadn’t played in what turned out to be his final three weeks with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The All-Pro cornerback, locked in an impasse with Jags ownership over a trade request, missed games due to the birth of his child and then a lingering back injury.
Now he’s a Ram. And his back? Miraculously healed.
He made his Los Angeles debut in Week 7, recording four tackles and providing lockdown coverage for a team in desperate need of aerial defense. Los Angeles held former NFL MVP Matt Ryan to just 5.9 yards per pass and a 60.6 passer rating before the veteran was forced out of the game with an ankle injury.
He also showed off his tackling chops by getting his shoulder directly on the ball to force a Devonta Freeman fumble.
Jalen Ramsey already making plays as a Rampic.twitter.com/0ZRWQR47Gz— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 20, 2019
That was a massive win for a Rams team that had allowed 290 passing yards per game in its three-week losing streak, but there’s still room for Ramsey to wind up disappointed on the West Coast. If he’s not the missing piece LA needs to turn the franchise into a Super Bowl champion, the Rams don’t have many more assets left to add a proven playmaker to the lineup.
8. Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who got his groove back
For three games, Moore looked like the offensive mind capable of supercharging the Cowboys and turning Dak Prescott into an elite quarterback. Dallas got off to a 3-0 start while averaging 32.3 points per game as Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott carved up some of the NFL’s worst defenses.
That momentum screeched to a halt in Week 4, as America’s Team (tm) skidded to a three-game losing streak in which they only scored 56 total points while getting beat by the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints (respectable), Packers (reasonable), and Jets (uhhhhhh). This was very concerning and it threw Moore and head coach Jason Garrett’s futures in Texas very much into question.
Fortunately for them, a showdown with the defensive back-deficient Eagles was all they needed to get the offense clicking again. A freewheeling Prescott exploited weaknesses across the Philly secondary and a creative rushing attack averaged 5.3 yards per carry en route to a too-easy 37-10 win over the Eagles.
Moore even found a way to get Tavon Austin his first touchdown of 2019 via third-down trickery:
The Cowboys’ defense played a major role in the Sunday night win — they sacked Carson Wentz three times and forced four turnovers — but the headline for Dallas’ slump-buster was an offense that suddenly looked exciting and dynamic again.
7. Johnny Hekker, whose QB rating is now 106.4
Hekker may be the Rams’ second-best quarterback. This is impressive, because Hekker is a punter.
Hekker completed his 12th NFL pass in 20 tries by hitting Nick Scott for a 23-yard gain in the second quarter of a game against the Falcons. He’s averaged a shade under nine yards per pass as a pro. Blake Bortles, the team’s current No. 2 QB, has a career 6.7 yards-per-pass rate.
That doesn’t mean Hekker’s the better backup quarterback, of course. Just that he has the best arm of any punter out there — at least until we get to see whether or not Jamie Gillan can uncork a 30-yard rugby pass downfield at some point this fall.
6. Ryan Tannehill, the franchise quarterback the Titans had been waiting for all along
Tennessee struggled through six weeks of the 2019 season before making a change; free-agent-to-be Marcus Mariota was out as starting quarterback. Free-agent-to-be Ryan Tannehill was in.
The former Dolphin, mercifully traded before the team’s tanking effort, landed in Nashville as a high-value backup behind a quarterback who hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule in his NFL career. That presented a massive opportunity for Tannehill to rebuild his value as a passer, and when Mariota’s mediocrity yanked him out of the lineup, the Miami castoff came through.
Tannehill threw for 312 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception as his Titans held off the Chargers to improve to 3-4 on the season. It was his first 300+ yard performance since September 2016.
His emergence also served as the rising tide that lifted the fortunes of some of the team’s most promising young targets. Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and A.J. Brown combined for 15 catches on 18 targets, springing for 208 yards and a touchdown in the process.
5. Darius Leonard, who cancelled the Texans’ comeback effort
Deshaun Watson is a bad, bad man. The MVP candidate quarterback is capable of covering massive swaths of turf in very little time thanks to his ability to extend plays in the pocket and then launch passes to a wide array of deep threats downfield.
So even though the Colts led Houston 30-23 with 26 seconds to play, there was still a good chance the Texans could find a way to tie or win this game before the end of regulation. That’s where Darius Leonard came in.
that's one hell of an INT, Darius Leonard pic.twitter.com/llewR0slUs— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 20, 2019
Leonard, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, put together an absurd display of athleticism and concentration to snuff out Houston’s comeback hopes and make a diving save on a pass thrown just slightly behind second-year wideout Keke Coutee.
At 4-2, Indianapolis currently stands alone atop the AFC South. Leonard, who returned in Week 7 after missing the previous three games with a concussion, led all players with 10 tackles. Although the Colts proved they can win without him, this defense reaches an extra gear with its do-everything stalwart calling out orders in the middle of the field.
4. The NFC West, the only division in the football world where no one has a losing record
The Cardinals won three games in all of 2018. Through seven weeks, they’ve already matched that.
Arizona improved to 3-3-1 by grinding Daniel Jones down to a paste, sacking him eight times in a 27-21 win in New Jersey. While top overall pick Kyler Murray put together a mediocre stat line (104 passing yards, no touchdowns or interceptions), tailback Chase Edmonds proved capable of giving his team a spark. The former Fordham Ram matched his all-time NFL total by rushing for three touchdowns and a career-high 126 yards while keeping the Cards’ afloat.
With that win, all four of the NFC West’s teams now sit at .500 or better. The Cardinals, undefeated 49ers, and Rams all won Sunday. Only the Seahawks, who lost to old friend Earl Thomas and the Ravens, tasted defeat. With surprises across the board, the West has developed into the NFL’s most competitive division.
The football gods deprived us of what could be the only Patrick Mahomes-Aaron Rodgers regular season showdown we’d ever get when Mahomes dislocated his kneecap Thursday night. And then, like the WWE trying to appease fans after pulling a star from an indy booking, they sent a surprisingly solid replacement to fill that void.
Derek Carr had one of the finest games of his career (with a few exceptions, which we’ll get to later) as he and Rodgers put together a passing clinic. From the 6:01 mark in the first quarter to 1:01 remaining in the second, neither Carr nor Rodgers threw an incompletion — and that was a perfect pass that caromed off Packer wideout Allen Lazard’s chest.
Not 40 seconds later, Rodgers put on a masterclass in looking off safety help to hit Jake Kumerow (the pride of Wisconsin-Whitewater!) for the second touchdown of his NFL career.
Rodgers finished his day with 429 passing yards, five touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Carr had a season-high 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the game, 15 different players had at least two catches each. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 133 receiving yards and only two receptions, which is the kind of box score line you’d only find on a Super Tecmo Bowl end screen.
But the lasting impression left behind by Raider QB will likely end up being his continued penchant for reckless dives to the end zone that have no chance of success.
DEREK CARR, HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING? pic.twitter.com/p86kOMi1Yn— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 20, 2019
Like his last-gasp dive against the Cowboys in 2017, that ball bounced out of bounds for a touchback, turning a scoring opportunity into the runway the Packers needed to add another touchdown before the half. If you liked big passing plays and schadenfreude-inducing mistakes, this was more or less perfection.
2. Falcons fans, who wisely avoided Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Julio Jones aside, there aren’t many reasons to watch Atlanta this fall. Dan Quinn has spent 2019 inching ever closer to unemployment as his Falcons look both outmanned and underprepared each week. On Sunday, they helped snap the Rams out of a three-game losing streak in a 37-10 loss that dropped Atlanta to 1-6.
Not that many fans were there to watch that nigh-unwatchable mess live.
Mid first quarter in Atlanta. Empty seats from here to Augusta. pic.twitter.com/F6dh4OP521— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 20, 2019
This is the stadium with the $2 hot dogs and $5 beers, by the way — so it’s not like watching a game live after scalping some $20 seats would be that much more expensive that hitting a local sports bar. People in Georgia just really, really don’t want to watch the Falcons right now. And the ones who do would like a refund for their trouble.
Fans screaming “We want our money back” in the tunnel.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) October 20, 2019
1. Marcus Peters, who got quite the INTroduction* to Baltimore, and the rest of the Ravens suddenly-scary defense
Peters was traded from Los Angeles to Baltimore earlier this week as the Rams cleared space for Ramsey to make his move west. The mercurial cornerback went from one needy secondary to another, but his first game in purple and black saw him notch his second pick-six of the season — against a familiar and unlikely opponent.
Russell Wilson hadn’t thrown an interception since December 2018 until Peters jumped this floater of an out route and turned it into an easy six points. A consistent performance from a notably inconsistent cover corner would be a major boon for the Ravens. They came into Week 7 allowing 8.1 yards per pass — 26th in the league. On Sunday, they held an MVP frontrunner to a season-low 5.9 yards per attempt.
Peters was from the only person responsible for Baltimore’s leveled-up performance. Earl Thomas, facing his former team for the first time, didn’t get many opportunities to strike back at Wilson Sunday but still came up with five tackles, despite a Seattle offense that tended to push plays away from him. Multiple teammates would later cite the safety as their extra motivation behind Sunday’s upset win.
Chuck Clark and Brandon Carr each had passes defensed. And while the Ravens only got one sack, they also managed to keep Wilson from getting comfortable in the pocket by hitting him eight times (via seven different players).
The Ravens were scary even without a Ravenesque defense thanks to Lamar Jackson’s continued mastery of both the running and passing aspects of quarterbacking. He had 100+ rushing yards for the second game in a row and is currently on pace for 3,771 passing yards and 1,316 rushing yards. Now he’s got a defense that suddenly looks scary, and that’s awful news for the rest of the AFC.
*Do you get it? Do you get my joke? Because INT is the abbreviation for interception? Football is full of fun moments like this. Let’s enjoy them together, friend.