The Film Room: Legion Booms Wentz and Philly Receivers

At about the midway point of the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks holding a 13-point lead, the Seattle pass rush started to lag a little and the zone defenses started to get a little softer.  It was at about this point that Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles on a 10-play 66-yard touchdown drive that narrowed both the score and the Seattle statistical dominance a little bit.  Still, for most of Seattle’s 26-15 vanquishing of the not-really-ready-for-prime-time Eagles, the contest between Philadelphia’s second-tier receivers and the Seahawk’s vaunted Legion of Boom was every bit the mismatch that most would have predicted.

With no real “primary” receiver to focus on, Seattle started downshifting early into their zone defensive schemes.  Before the first quarter was over, elite cornerback Richard Sherman stopped flipping sides of the field and settled into his usual left corner spot against whoever Philadelphia decided to line up against him.

On his way to an unremarkable 23 of 45 passing day that resulted in 218 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (a 61.2 passer rating day), Wentz – with little help from his receivers – looked very much like the rookie quarterback that he still is.  He frequently led defenders to his receivers by staring intently at them.  He more than once waited too long before moving on to his next option.  He “played fast” a few times, throwing the ball before the receiver was ready.  He badly misread a coverage or two.

It’s all part of the growing pains of a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

He also could have been supported better.  He had more than a few balls tipped and several other passes dropped – including a heart-breaking drop by Nelson Agholor.  With 3:47 left in the second quarter, and the Eagles trailing 16-7, Agholor deked Sherman and broke wide open over the middle at about midfield where Wentz delivered a perfect strike – that bounced off Agholor’s chest.

In the words of Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”

A 7-9 team last season, the improvement in the Eagles this year has been noteworthy – much of it due to the rookie quarterback.  Even with the loss – and notwithstanding that they are currently last in their division – I think the Eagles’ playoff chances are still excellent as four of their last six are at home.  Still, in games like this, you can see that this team is still a notch or two below the elite teams in the league.

The most intriguing number from this game came from the Seattle offense.  Entering the game with the thirtieth ranked running offense (averaging 77.7 yards per game and 3.3 per rush), Seattle finished with 152 yards on the ground and a 5.1 average.

The truth behind the number, though, is that the Seattle running game was less than dominant.  Ninety of those yards came on two plays – C.J. Prosise’s 72-yard touchdown sprint in the first; and Thomas Rawls 18-yards jaunt around left end in the second.  Seattle’s other 28 running plays accounted for 62 yards (2.2 yards per attempt) – more along the lines of what I expected.

Interestingly enough – since there has been much discussion of the Seattle offensive line this year – the key blocks on both of the long runs were not thrown by offensive linemen, but by receivers.

On the Prosise run, tight end Luke Willson kicked out the linebacker (Brandon Graham), and Doug Baldwin – not overly regarded for his blocking – blew into cornerback Jaylen Watkins at top speed.  Prosise needed only to elude cornerback Jalen Mills – who had a one-on-one opportunity to make the tackle but was caught back on his heels.

The run from Rawls was made possible by blocks by Willson (again), Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett as they sealed the edge and gave Thomas plenty of open space.

First-round draft pick Germain Ifedi – starting at right guard – played an impressive game.  For the most part, though, that offensive line continues to be mediocre and may yet be this team’s Achilles Heel.

Here is the NFL Gamebook for this game, and here is the football reference summary.

The Mystery of Arizona Continues

In many ways, Arizona’s 30-24 loss in Minnesota was a microcosm of their season.

They came into the game ranked seventh in total offensive yards per game, but only twentieth in scoring.  On Sunday, they started three drives in Minnesota territory.  Those drives resulted in one touchdown, one punt, and one interception returned for a Minnesota touchdown.

The Vikings drained the last third of the third quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard, 5:06 drive that led to a field goal that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 30-17.  That drive was aided appreciably by three personal foul penalties called against the Cardinal defense after the play was over.

In the game’s first half, Arizona out first-downed the Vikings 19-7, out gained them 263-109, ran for 110 yards (this is just the first half!) on 22 rushes (5.0 yards per), and controlled the ball for 20:51 of those first thirty minutes – and went into the locker at halftime trailing 20-17.  When Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 104 yards for another return touchdown, Minnesota pushed their lead to ten points even though Arizona was more than doubling their output in first downs, total yardage, rushing yardage and time of possession.  That is hard to do.

Frequently when you watch the Cardinals, you will still see the underpinnings of the team that played in last year’s conference championship game.  There is still a great deal of talent in Arizona.  They are having a difficult time staying out of their own way.

As to Minnesota, after being fortunate to escape the first half with a lead, the Viking defense put on a clinic in the second half the likes of which you rarely see against a quality offense.  After surrendering 110 rushing yards in the first half, Minnesota allowed 25 in the second half – and 11 of those came on a scramble from quarterback Carson Palmer.  Running back David Johnson – who ran for 89 yards in that first half – added just 14 rushing yards in the second half.  He had had four first half runs that had exceeded ten yards each.

Palmer as a passer was only 9 for 19 for just 45 yards.  Moreover, he was sacked four times in the second half for 43 yards of losses, so – counting the Palmer scramble, Arizona called 24 passing plays in the third and fourth quarters that totaled 13 yards.  For the second half, 29 offensive plays yielded 27 yards (an average of 0.9 yards per play) and 5 first downs.  In the first half they had amassed 19 first downs and averaged 6.4 yards per play.  If you were ever looking for a statistical picture of domination, this would be it.

A final note on the Minnesota-Arizona game.

Both of the Vikings first two touchdowns were initially denied by the officials.  Adam Thielen was originally ruled out of bounds on his 16-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and Matt Asiata was originally ruled down at the one although he did actually push the ball over the line before going down.  This has come to be so common a sight, now, in football games that it is less than noteworthy – an official blows a call, but replay sets things right.  These were calls that – not that many years ago – would have been ruled incorrectly and would have stayed that way as there wasn’t – at the time – any way to redress the wrong.

Replay has become a vital contributor to the game – in spite of the carping of its critics in the early going.  The next big step for replay, now, is to remove the silly coach’s challenge and run the entire game the way they run the last two minutes.  If the replay official sees something that looks a little uncertain, he initiates a review.  Come on, NFL.  It’s time.

Here is the gamebook for the game, and here is the football reference summary.

Baltimore Competes, but Dallas Prevails

Speaking of vastly different halves, Dallas and Baltimore went into the locker rooms tied at ten after the first two quarters.  Ranked number one in overall defense (by yards allowed), number one against the run, number three in points allowed, and number five in passing yards allowed, the Baltimore defense had contained the potent Dallas offense as well as could be hoped for through thirty minutes.  Dallas had just 45 rushing yards on 10 attempts (still 4.5 yards per attempt) and quarterback Dak Prescott was a good-but-not-phenomenal 13 for 21 for 155 yards and a touchdown (still an excellent 100.3 passer rating).

Now there is 8:56 left in the third quarter.  The Cowboys have a first-and-ten on Baltimore’s 17-yard line.  Prescott, after initially dropping a low snap, recovered the ball, composed himself, and threw incomplete for Gavin Escobar in the end zone.

It would be Prescott’s only incompletion of the entire second half.  Three plays later, he would throw a jump-ball into the end zone that Dez Bryant would pull down for the score that would give the Cowboys a 17-10 lead.  They would never look back.

For the second half of the game, Prescott completed 14 of 15 passes (93.3%) for 146 yards and two more touchdowns.  His second half passer rating was a sparkling 146.8.  Remember, this was against the league’s number one defense.

The vaunted Cowboy running game never did explode, but they did grind.  Twenty second-half rushes accounted for 73 yards (3.7 per) and helped Dallas control the ball for 20:09 of the second half.  They converted 4 of 5 third-downs in the half to keep the Baltimore offense on the sideline in a 27-17 conquest.

For their part, the Ravens got away from the running game that had worked very well for them in the first thirty minutes (13 rushes for 86 yards).  Baltimore called passes on 22 of their final 24 plays.

The gamebook for this game is here and the football reference summary here.

The Bucs Also Rise?

Tampa Bay was 11 for 16 (69%) on third down as they upset Kansas City.  They were 1 for 4 in the red zone and 10 for 12 outside the red zone.  They won by kicking 4 field goals and scoring one touchdown.

Buccaneer quarterback Jameis Winston targeted wide receiver Mike Evans 8 times in the first half.  They connected only twice for gains of 31 and 23 yards.  In the second half, Winston and Evans connected on 4 of 5 targets for a total of 51 yards, none longer than14 yards.  After a 12 for 22 first half (54.5%) in which he threw for 203 yards (16.92 per reception), Winston completed 12 of 17 (70.6%) in the second half, albeit for only 128 yards (10.67 per reception).  His first half passer rating was 86.0.  In the second half, that rose to 111.9.

The confrontation between the league’s twentieth rated running attack (Kansas City’s at 99.7 yards per game) and the league’s twenty-fifth rated run defense (Tampa Bay’s at 118.3 yards per game) went decisively to the Buccaneer defense that held KC to 82 yards on 21 rushing attempts (3.9 per rush).

The gamebook for this game is here, and this is the football reference summary.

The Patriots Find Another Weapon

With Rob Gronkowski missing last week’s game with a punctured lung, the unheralded Malcolm Mitchell made the Gronkowski play-of-the-day.  He capped his 4-catch, 98-yard day with a 56-yard touchdown that pushed the New England Patriots to a 30-17 victory in San Francisco.

Mitchell – a fourth-round pick out of Georgia – had only seven catches on the season before the Patriots kind of took the wrappings off this week.  Just what Tom Brady needs – yet another target.

Kansas City Loses Control of the AFC West

As the NFL season wears into mid-November, the playoff races start taking shape.  And as they do, playoff chances rise and fall week-to-week.  In the aftermath of a mostly predictable Week Eleven, the Kansas City Chiefs seem to have suffered the most damaging loss as they failed to take care of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home – losing the game 19-17.

In the Bucs defense, although they entered the game 4-5, they were (and are) nobody’s dog.  Last season’s team – although very young – held in the playoff hunt through 12 games (they were 6-6) before a late season collapse.  This year’s edition started off as something of a disorganized mess.  After they had lost three of their first four games, most of the cognoscenti wrote them off.

Counting last Sunday’s win, Tampa has now won four of their last six to even their record at 5-5 and bring them just one game behind Atlanta in their division.  In all four of the victories, the sometimes suspect defense has held its opponent to 17 points or less, taking the ball away a total of 13 times in those games.

Still, the home-standing Chiefs had won five in a row on their way to a 7-2 record.  They had scored at least 20 points in four of those five victories (and 20 points would have won this game).  They had turned the ball over only once in the last five games.

In the tightly congested AFC West – which is still likely to produce both Wildcard teams (although Buffalo is also in the conversation) – one bad loss could mean the difference between the second seed (and its much desired first round bye followed by a home game) and a sixth seed with no bye and no possibility of a home game.  With a win in Oakland earlier in the year, the Chiefs would have the advantage in a three-way tie if they could finish up by winning their home opportunities against the Raiders and Denver.  Up until Sunday, they had the inside track on the division.  Now, they must hope that both Oakland and Denver drop a game somewhere along the line that they should have won.

Elsewhere, even though their victories were expected, both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings saw their playoff hopes rise at the expense of divisional rivals Baltimore and Detroit.

The Steelers handled the Cleveland Browns as convincingly as they needed to, 24-9.  Pittsburgh is locked in a tight battle with the Ravens, who couldn’t quite handle the Dallas Cowboys (a 27-17 loss).  These results left both teams at 5-5.  If the tie holds, the Ravens could well take the division with a slightly better conference record.  Looming as a hurdle for the Steelers is a Week 15 road game against bitter rivals in Cincinnati.  But as the season progresses, the Bengals – already fading from playoff view – are now starting to take on critical injuries (RB Giovani Bernard is on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and elite wide receiver A.J. Green has a torn hamstring and will be out of action for a while).

Still a few weeks out, that game – Pittsburgh in Cincinnati – looks like it might well decide the division title.  As Cincinnati looks less and less likely to win that game, the likelihood that the Steelers will squeak into the playoffs increases.

The story is the same in Minnesota (fresh off a 30-24 conquest of Arizona), only the big road hurdle for the Vikings is Week 16 in Green Bay.  The Detroit Lions have the inside track on the division by virtue of the fact that they went into Minnesota in Week 9 and won, 22-16 in overtime.  If the Vikings can’t regain the upper hand by winning in Detroit tomorrow, that division (the NFC North) will come down to Minnesota in Green Bay.

The good news for the Vikings is the same as the good news for Pittsburgh.  In Green Bay, the defense – which has struggled all year – is now imploding.  The Packers have seen at least 31 points thrown up against them in each of their last four games.  This skid includes allowing 89 points allowed in their last two games – losses to Tennessee and Washington.  Green Bay still has some time to pull themselves together.  In fact, just two games behind the Viking and Lions, it is even possible for them to eek their way back into contention.

But as they continue to flounder, their ability to roadblock the Vikings path to the division title becomes increasingly in doubt.

The Seahawks Prevail by a Yard

In his post-game interview, Rob Gronkowski said that he was not trying to initiate contact and that he was trying to make a move.

As it had in the Super Bowl two years ago, one yard once again separated the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots.  This time it was the New England offense – trailing 24-31 – that stood one yard from victory (or at least a tie).  It was fourth-and-goal with 14 seconds left.  With all of the other receivers aligning to the right of the formation, Gronkowski was all alone on the left side.  All alone standing in the end zone waiting for him was Seahawk safety Kam Chancellor.  It was, apparently, the match-up that both sides wanted.  At the snap, Gronkowski ran straight at the safety.  On the second step of his drop-back, quarterback Tom Brady lofted the ball in Gronkowski’s direction.

Chancellor – no novice to this kind of situation – positioned himself exactly at the pivot point of Gronkowski’s route.  With no other end zone traffic, Kam was at liberty to firmly hold his ground at the precise point where Rob would have to plant his foot and break toward the corner of the end zone.  Chancellor didn’t bite on Gronkowski’s stutter-step, and the two collided in the end zone, both tumbling to the ground.

The pass fell harmlessly in the back of the end zone.  None of the officiating crew reached for their flag.  And Seattle came away with the victory.  The proper call?  Debatable.  But I think the right result.  After replaying this play maybe a couple dozen times, I am left with the feeling that Kam Chancellor just played it extremely well.  I could make a pretty good case, I think, for offensive pass interference as Chancellor is entitled to the ground he’s standing on and Gronkowski was colliding with him at the exact moment that Brady was releasing the ball.  That, of course, is a moot point as Seattle would have declined the penalty had it been called.

That play, and the goal line stand that had preceded it, provided a fitting ending for the marquee matchup of Week Ten – and particularly the marquee matchup within the matchup: the New England offense vs the Seattle defense.

The Goal-Line Stand

Twenty-nine football seconds earlier, the Patriots broke huddle with a first-and-goal on the two yard-line.  A quarterback sneak gained one of those yards.  Then the sequence got curious.

On second down they handed the ball to hammer-back LeGarrette Blount who – I’m not sure why – tried to leap over the pile for the touchdown.  The defensive surge – led, again, by Chancellor – held Blount out of the end zone by about the width of the lace on the ball.  It’s significant that Blount tried to leap over the pile.  From that same one-yard line in the waning moments of the first half, Blount bulled his way into the end zone carrying about half of the Seattle defense with him.  When he stays on the ground, LeGarrette runs with significant leverage.  His leap in that situation may have done the Patriots a favor.

Now it was third down and New England went back to that almost unstoppable Brady sneak.  But they messed it up.  Brady leaned left while his offensive line was thinking he would plow straight ahead.  The ball was jarred out of Brady’s hands, rolling free on the two-yard line for an agonizing second before Brady fell on it.  An ensuing penalty on Seattle (for too many men on the field) moved the ball back to the one and set up the fourth-down drama.

New England’s Resurgence

In the four games since Brady returned from his suspension, the Patriot offense had averaged 34 points per game, scoring at least 27 in all of them.  They also averaged 414 yards per game in as unstoppable a display of offense as the league has recently witnessed.  This year’s Patriots had re-discovered offensive balance, as they came into the Seattle contest ranked eighth in the NFL averaging 116.4 rushing yards per game.

As to Brady and the passing attack, Tom came into the game completing 73.1% of his passes (98 of 134) for 1319 yards (9.84 yards per pass and 13.5 yards per completion).  In four games, Brady had thrown for 12 touchdowns without an interception.  His passer rating was 133.9.

Seattle Slipping?

As for Seattle, the highly regarded Seahawk defense had taken on some water lately.  Through the first four games of the season, Seattle had allowed just 54 points (an average of 13.5 a game) and 1056 yards (an average of 264 a game).  Opposing offenses had managed just 64.2 rushing yards a game against them, while opposing passers rated just 65.6 against them.  While these numbers were impressive, it’s worth pointing out that they were achieved against struggling offenses in Miami (before Jay Ajayi), Los Angeles, San Francisco and the New York Jets.  Hardly fair fights.

Over the next four weeks, Seattle was challenged by a set of better offenses in Atlanta, Arizona, New Orleans and Buffalo and looked a little more human, allowing 20 points and 401 yards per contest.  Of particular interest was the Seahawk run defense, which came into last Sunday’s contest having allowed 417 rush yards over its previous three games, including 162 to Buffalo the week before.  They seemed like teams headed in different directions.

The Game

But Sunday night in Foxboro the Seahawk run defense made a significant return to form, holding the Patriots to 81 rushing yards on 2.9 yards an attempt and reducing the contest to Brady and his receivers vs the “Legion of Boom.”

Seattle’s defense plays more zone defense than, I think, is generally recognized.  But it’s not their strength.  The Patriots saw mostly man coverage, with Richard Sherman mostly on Danny Amendola (who managed 1 catch for 14 yards) and Chancellor usually on Gronkowski.  The problem here, though, is that the Patriots present more matchup problems than this.  Covering the “other” tight end (Martellus Bennett) was an issue (he finished with 7 catches for 102 yards).  And then there is the mercurial Julian Edelman (who finished with 7 more catches for 99 yards).

The Seattle defense prospered most in the first half when they got some pressure around the edges, forcing Brady to throw on the run (not his strength).  He finished the half 11 of 16 for just 111 yards, no touchdowns and his first interception of the season (an ugly affair where Tom scrambled around to his right, then scampered back into the collapsing remains of his pocket and flung a desperate pass to a double-covered Malcolm Mitchell).  Brady ended the first half with a 62.2 rating.

The second half was a different story.  With better protection and finding ways to get and exploit the matchups he wanted, Tom completed 12 of his last 16 passes for 205 yards.  His second half rating was a much more Brady-like 116.7.  The principle targets of the second half were Bennett (who caught all 3 passes thrown to him in the half for 59 yards) and Edelman (who caught all 5 passes thrown to him for 88 yards).  Brady also found Gronkowski in man coverage down the sideline against DeShawn Shead.  That play resulted in the 26-yard pass that set up the game ending goal-line stand at the two.

After sixty vigorous minutes, the Patriot offense and the Seahawk defense both had their moments.  New England survived two turnovers and two sacks to finish with 385 yards and 24 points.  They didn’t prevail because of a couple of clutch defensive plays and the efforts of the other quarterback in this contest – Russell Wilson.

Wilson is back – in case you hadn’t heard.  The Patriots entered the contest among the best pass defenses in the league with a passer rating against of 84.9.  But they had no answer for Mr. Wilson who exploited both man and zone coverages all night.  Sitting in the pocket when convenient and scampering out of trouble when needed, Wilson finished 25 of 37 (67.6%) for 348 yards (9.41 per attempt and 13.92 per completion).  Against a pass defense that had allowed only 9 touchdown passes in 8 games, Russell Wilson added 3 more without throwing an interception – a 124.6 rating.

The Week-to-Week NFL

The NFL is referred to over and over as a “week-to-week” league.  What this means is that the level of parity is such that most teams consistency is a week-to-week adventure.  This is true almost everywhere in the NFL.  It is not true in Seattle and New England.  These are two model franchises that have risen above the relative mediocrity of the league.  With the health or availability of their franchise quarterbacks as the only notable variable, the Seahawks and Patriots, week in and week out, fight every game down to the very last yard.  This is one of a handful of pairings that are legitimate Super Bowl possibilities.  There are other top teams (like Dallas) that are in the mix, but a rematch for these two clubs in February is not at all unfathomable.  With two teams that fear each other not at all, it should be a pretty good game – if it happens.

The Cowboys Prevail

Speaking of Dallas, for the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys won a “moxie” game.  Earlier in the season, Dallas opened up significant early leads and cruised to relatively easy victories.  In recent games against Philadelphia (three weeks ago) and Pittsburgh (last week) the Cowboys met with more adversity than before.  The Eagles led by ten early in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers – playing at home – took a lead with 42 seconds left in the game.  These are games that most teams lose.  The Cowboys just keep winning (eight in a row, now).

Against the Steelers, Dallas had only 42 rushing yards at the half.  They outrushed Pittsburgh 85 to 2 after the intermission.  Ezekiel Elliott accounted for almost as many rushing yards on his last carry (a 32-yard touchdown sprint) as the 48 rushing yards that Pittsburgh managed all day.

That being said, both the Eagles and Steelers exposed some defensive weaknesses in the Cowboys.  This may be the weakness that separates them from the Seahawks.

So Do the Eagles

And speaking of the Eagles, the first number that jumps out of their 24-15 win over Atlanta is their 208 rushing yards.  These were achieved against a Falcon defense that had ranked seventh against the run coming into the game, allowing just 91.6 yards per contest.

Philadelphia is one of those teams that epitomizes the week-to-week nature of the NFL.  Having surpassed 100 rushing yards only once in the previous four weeks they suddenly blow through one of the better run defenses in the league.  The Eagles have had some impressive wins over some good teams (Pittsburgh, Minnesota and now Atlanta), and all four of their losses have been close losses on the road against over .500 teams (24-23 in Detroit against the 5-4 Lions; 27-20 in Washington against the 5-3-1 Redskins; 29-23 in overtime in Dallas against the 8-1 Cowboys; and 28-23 in New York against the 6-3 Giants).  They have played a very strong schedule and look like a team that can compete with almost anybody.

But the second number that jumps put from this game is Atlanta’s rushing totals: 13 rushes 48 yards for the game.  Although in the second half they never trailed by more than 6 points until the last two minutes, they still ran the ball only 5 times in the half.  Granted they miss injured running back Tevin Coleman, but still the Falcon offense came into the game ranked number two in yardage and number one in points yes because of Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones, but also because they could balance that passing attack with a top-ten running game that had averaged 114.2 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush.  Losing that balance helped Philadelphia unravel the Atlanta passing attack.  Ryan was only 7 for 18 in the second half.

A Tale of Two Brees’

The blocked extra-point that turned into a 2-point play for Denver in their 25-23 win over New Orleans overshadowed one of the better second-half passing performances you are likely to see for a while and one of the most surprising turnarounds.  After a dismal first half in which he completed only 8 of 14 passes for 109 yards and 2 interceptions, Drew Brees stung the elite Denver defense to the tune of 13 of 15 in the second half for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception.  And almost a victory.

The Film Room: Viking Offense Seeking Traction

It’s been a stiff downturn for Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings since they hit their bye three weeks ago.  A perfect 5-0 at the time, the Vikings have lost all three games since.  The defense that allowed 12.6 points a game and not more than 16 points through the first five have (after last week’s 22-16 overtime loss to Detroit) now allowed an average of 21 points over the last 3 games.  But the biggest concern has been the fading Viking offense.

Though their undefeated start, Minnesota scored 23.8 points per game, 302.6 total offensive yards per games and 232 passing yards per game. Quarterback Sam Bradford – who had taken over as the starter in week two – completed 70.4% of his passes during his four victories (88 for 125) for 990 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.  His passer rating at the time was 109.7.

In losses to Philadelphia and Chicago, all of this came to a halt.  They scored only 10 points in each game, averaging just 270 total yards and 195 passing yards.  Bradford, in those two games, completed just 47 of 78 passes (60.3%) for just 452 yards.  He threw only 2 touchdown passes in those games while throwing his first interception of the season.  His rating was a very pedestrian 79.6 in those games.

The Viking offense reached its nadir on its last possession of the first half.  Two minutes and twenty-seven seconds into the second quarter, the Vikings’ defense flushed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford from the pocket where he launched an ill-advised pass up the right sideline.  Viking linebacker Chad Greenway was waiting for it.  His interception and subsequent return gave Minnesota a first-and-ten on the Detroit 18.  There was 12:25 left in the second quarter of a 3-3 game.

A first-down run gained four yards.  Second-and-six from the Detroit 14.

On second down, the slightest flinch from embattled right tackle T.J. Clemmings drew a flag.  The penalty pushed the ball back to the Detroit 19.  Second and 11.

A wide-receiver screen to Stefon Diggs managed only two yards – but worse than that left-guard Jeremiah Sirles drew a questionable block-in-the-back penalty.  The good news was that it was still just second down.  Unfortunately, it was now second down and 19 from the Detroit 27.

The good news on the third-down play was there was no penalty called.  The bad news is that even if the Vikings had been guilty of an infraction, the Lions would have probably declined it.  Ronnie Hillman took a quick pitch from Bradford intending to scoot around right end.  Before he could take his second step, he was met in the backfield by half the Detroit defense.  The Vikings lost four yards on the play.

On third and 23 from the Detroit 31, the same suspect right side of the Minnesota offensive line that couldn’t run block the play before proved just as ineffective as pass blockers.  Lined up over right guard Brandon Fusco, tackle Haloti Ngata stunted around right end.  Fusco lost him in the shuffle and ended up trailing Ngata all the way to the quarterback.  But Ngata was only the second to arrive.

Driving inside on the T-E stunt, end Kerry Hyder got under Clemmings’ pads and blew past him, running almost completely unimpeded as he brought Bradford down on the 40 yard line.

Two minutes and twenty-nine seconds after they had set up shop with a first down at the Detroit 18, Minnesota was punting from the 40.  There was still 9:56 left in the half, but Minnesota wouldn’t see the ball again until the third quarter.  Following the punt, Detroit would run almost ten minutes off the clock as they moved 84 yards in 17 grinding plays for the touchdown that sent them into the locker room at the half leading 10-3.

Through their first eight games, the unspectacular Detroit defense has allowed 23.8 points per game, while allowing 255.6 passing yards and 341.1 total yards per game.  To this point in the season, the passer rating against the Detroit pass defense was a problematical 113.7.

But as they trotted into the halftime locker room, that defense had stiffed the Minnesta offense to the tune of 3 points and 105 yards.  Bradford had completed 11 of 15 tosses (73.3%) but for only 84 yards, carrying a mediocre 86.5 passer rating into the locker room.

The Viking offense had fallen into (and would subsequently work their way out of) a common trap.  While their offensive line had struggled, Minnesota had – by degrees – tried to remove them from the game plan to the point where they never threw the ball downfield and made only halting attempts to run the ball.  Assuming that there would be no help from the line, the Viking offense had degraded to the point where it was just a series of quick dump-off passes.

Minnesota would go on to lose this game, but they would rebound to score 13 points in the second half on 232 offensive yards.  After averaging 4.2 yards per play in the first half, they averaged 5.5 in the second.  They made two important changes to their offensive philosophy that brought them their first spark of life since week five – and a source of hope for their upcoming games.

First, the Viking offense re-dedicated to the run.  In the first half, they ran the ball just 9 times.  Only twice did Bradford hand off on consecutive plays.  They ran the ball 16 times in the second half.  They didn’t run especially well – they managed just 48 yards on those runs (3.0 per) – but they showed a willingness to pound on the Lion defense.

This had two critical benefits.  First, it allowed the offensive line to become invested in the game.  It gave them a chance to dictate action to Detroit instead of trying to react to them.  Secondly – and perhaps, more importantly – it took some of the spring out of the pass rush.  Even though the running game didn’t net a lot of yards, its contribution was substantial.

The second important adjustment they made was to start throwing the deep ball.  Not having to worry about downfield passes, the Lions since the opening kick had been squatting on the Vikings short routes.  So, as the second half started, Minnesota started challenging them down the field.  Not a lot.  Of Bradford’s 25 second half throws, maybe five challenged the Lions deep.  But that was all they needed.  Bradford didn’t even complete any of these deep passes (although one did draw an important pass interference call), but just the fact that those routes were back in the offense improved things drastically.

Bradford still averaged less than ten yards a completion (9.45 to be exact), but his passing line for the second half was a much more effective 20 for 25 (80%) for 189 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions.  His rating for that half was an impressive 113.6.  After converting one of five third-down opportunities in the first half, the Viking offense was 5 for 9 in the second.

Whether they will (or can) continue this improvement against Washington tomorrow remains to be seen.  But the offense’s second half showing against Detroit was the best news Viking fans have had since the bye week.

The NLF Gamebook for this contest can be found here, and the Football Reference summary is here.

The Curse is Over – And Baseball Will Miss It

Welcome to the last baseball post of the season.  A very interesting NFL season is underway, so in the months to come we’ll turn our attention there.  After the Super Bowl, my plan is to go mostly dark for the remainder of February (my little vacation) and begin in March with features on players as we prepare for the 2017 Major League season.

First things first.  Congratulations to the World Champion Chicago Cubs (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say in my lifetime).  From the first pitch of the season to the last game of the Series, they dominated all of baseball like few teams in recent memory.  They left no doubt along the way that they were without peer anywhere in organized baseball.  After a 109-year trial, their long national nightmare is at last over.

That means, of course, that the curse is dead.  And that is really too bad.  I will miss it.

Looked back on – now that it is over – the curse is the single most amazing and un-repeatable occurrence in the history of all sports anywhere.  It was beyond incomprehensible.  It dwarfs the achievement of any single player or era – no matter how great – in the history of history.

Consider: There are currently 246 players who are members of the baseball Hall of Fame.  The curse has completely spanned the careers of 187 of them.  That is 76% of every member of the Hall of Fame who played their entire careers without ever seeing the Cubs win the title.  This streak will continue for at least another four years until the 2021 class is elected.

When partial careers are considered, the number is even more astonishing as the curse lapsed at least part of the careers of 219 of the 246 Hall of Famers – an amazing 89% that will only grow larger as the next player to be enshrined that didn’t have at least one year of his career fall within the years of the curse won’t be eligible until Aledmys Diaz or Alex Reyes (or some other rookie from this year’s class) goes in sometime around 2036.  Forty-eight of these 246 (a shade under 20%) lived their entire lives without enduring a Cubs championship.

The sheer breadth of this amazing curse has left an indelible imprint on the game.  With its cessation, the game will lose much of its richness.  It thus becomes another black mark on an already dreary year whose other lowlights will include scandals at Wells Fargo and Volkswagen, the fading of our relationship with the Philippines, the beginning of the disrespectful trend of players taking a knee during the National Anthem, and a presidential election that may be the most humiliating choice that any free people has ever had to make at any time in history.

Truly, it has been a bad year to be an American.

Chicago, of course, having borne the brunt of the curse, is enjoying only the relief that this is over and behind them.  As a public service to them – seeing how there are no living Cub fans who remember their last championship – let me just prepare you.  The off-season will be surprisingly short.  Before you know it the season will be upon you, and usually you will find that the magic will be difficult to re-capture.  The lingering euphoria will have pretty much evaporated by the end of April.

It is possible that, over time, you will come to miss the curse.  It was the thing that distinguished your team – that brought a large measure of national sympathy for you plight.  That is all over now.  Now you are just another large market team like Boston and New York, whose successes will be met with shrugs while fans and media will continue to praise the accomplishments of the middle-market teams (which is pretty much every other team in your division).  You may eventually find yourselves missing the general goodwill of the baseball universe.

I have been asked if I fear that this Chicago team will now dominate the major leagues in general and their division in particular for the next two decades.  I don’t, of course.  The Cubs should continue to be a competitive team for the foreseeable future, but I think a decade of winning 103 games or more a year is pretty unlikely.

While I begrudge the Cubs nothing – their championship being well and truly earned – it is nonetheless worth noting that they enjoyed uncommon good fortune on their way to their title.

Let’s begin with the career years in the rotation.  It’s extremely helpful when a team gets even one career year from a member of their rotation.  For example, in the Cardinal’s 100-win season in 2015, only one of their starters could have been perceived as having a career year.  Jaime Garcia slid through with a remarkable 2.43 ERA.  But even that comprised only 20 starts and 129.2 innings.  Everyone else had reasonable success compared to their expectations.  A career year out of one of your starters is a big deal.

The Cubs got two.

Thirty-two years old and pitching in his eleventh big-league season, Jon Lester had the year of his life.  He matched his career high in wins with 19 while losing only 5 times all year.  His .792 winning percentage and his 2.44 ERA were both career bests.  He was 10-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 14 starts after the break.

Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks – an eight-game winner in 2015 with a 3.95 ERA – came out of nowhere to win 16 games and lead the league with a 2.13 ERA.  Hendricks – 26-years old and an eighth-round pick back in 2011 – had never hinted at this level of domination.  In his 2 AAA seasons he had managed a solid but unspectacular 13-6 record with a 3.28 ERA.

As much as anything else, it was these two career years that pushed the Cubs to the best ERA in the league (3.15) and tilted the division so decidedly in their favor.  Are they repeatable? Career years rarely are.  A case in point is Jake Arrieta, who in 2015 at the age of 29 had far and away the best year of his life.  He went 22-6 that year with a 1.77 ERA.  Last year – still a very good and effective pitcher – Arrieta came back to the pack quite a bit.  He finished 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA.  That’s pretty much what I expect to see from Lester and Hendricks.  I have no doubt they will continue to be very good pitchers.  I doubt they will continue to be other worldly.

I also doubt the Cubs will be as fortunate on the injury front next year.  I had questions about the Cubs depth going into last year – questions that will forever be unanswered, as it turns out, since their depth was never tested.  Over the course of the 162-game regular season and 17 playoff games you could nearly count all the Cubs injuries on the fingers of one hand.  They did lose Kyle Schwarber for most of the season – a palpable loss, but outfield was their one area of depth.  I think I remember Dexter Fowler missing a couple of weeks.  John Lackey missed a couple of starts, and there was another point when I think they were down a couple of set-up relievers.  And that was it.  The entire injury history of their curse-breaking season.  That was all! All the major pitchers and all the big bats in the middle of the line-up were available for duty every single day – an almost miraculous preservation.

This advantage was made all the more decisive when weighed against the significant injuries that mostly hamstrung the other teams in their division.

The Cardinals were called on to contend against this Cubs team despite the losses of Lance Lynn (for the full season), Seth Maness (about 80 games over two DL stints), Jhonny Peralta (for the first 57 games of the season and then a second DL stint that cost him about 15 more), Tommy Pham (about 65 games), Tyler Lyons (almost 60 games), Trevor Rosenthal (almost 50 games), Matt Holliday (about 45 games), Aledmys Diaz (about 40 games), Michael Wacha (about 30 games), Matt Carpenter (about 25 games), Brandon Moss (about 24 games), and Matt Adams (about 20 games).  This is most of the big bats in the lineup, several key bullpen members – including the closer, and one member of the starting rotation.  Injuries don’t usually define the Cardinal’s season.  This year, of course, they did fall one game short of a playoff appearance.

While none of the other NL Central teams were plagued to this extent, they all suffered critical injuries at positions where there was no depth.  This was especially true in the rotation, where every other NL Central team lost their best starter for significant stretches of the season.  Pittsburgh’s key losses included #1 starter Gerrit Cole (who missed about 10 starts) and sparkplug Jung Ho Kang – who missed around 50 games.  Cincinnati lost Anthony DeSclafani – arguably their best starter – for the first two-and-a-half months of the season and saw offensive sparkplug Billy Hamilton miss the last month.  In Milwaukee, 31-year-old Junior Guerra came out of nowhere to win 9 games with a 2.81 ERA.  He missed the month of August and the last half of September.

Looking at the league outside of the Central Division, injuries were especially heavy in New York, where the Mets (the team that conquered the Cubs in 2015) lost three-fifths of their rotation in Matt Harvey (threw his last pitch of the season on July 4), Steven Matz (threw his last pitch of the season on August 14) and Jacob deGrom (threw his last pitch of the season on September first).  The Mets also played without third-baseman David Wright (took his last swing on May 27) and second baseman Neil Walker (took his last swing on August 27).

Not all of their injuries were season ending.  Lucas Duda missed about four months, but did make it back by mid-September. Jose Reyes missed the first three months (although with a suspension, not an injury).

All this was enough to keep the Mets – arguably the biggest threat to the Cubs – from effectively competing for their division title.  New York still fought its way into the playoffs, but had their opportunity contracted to that one-game playoff against the Giants (they didn’t prevail).

None of this is to minimize the Cubs championship.  I’m just saying that the Chicago dominance was aided greatly by much better fortune than they can necessarily expect going forward.  Career years and injuries are very much the luck of the draw in any given baseball season.  If that luck is distributed a little more evenly next year, Chicago won’t have quite so easy a path to a repeat title.

And that will be good for baseball.  Division races that are decided before the All-Star break greatly reduces the September excitement.

In fact, looking forward to 2017, I have a feeling the entire division will be much more competitive top to bottom.  As last season wound down, I was very impressed with the growth in Cincinnati and Milwaukee.  In fact, it was hard to look at that Cincinnati team and not see a reflection of the Whitey-ball Cardinals of the 1980’s.  I’m not necessarily saying that the Reds and/or Brewers are ready to contend for the division crown next year, but I don’t think they’ll be 90-loss derelicts either.  The days of the Cubs leaving on a seven-game road trip through Milwaukee and Cincinnati and coming home with six or seven wins could well be over.

In fact, in my opinion, the biggest question marks in this division going into 2017 will be the teams that have been the front-runners here for most of the last five or six years – the Cards and Pirates.

The wheels seemed to come off for the Pirates last year – especially the rotation which all but collapsed.  Additionally, cornerstone players Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco suddenly became surprisingly average.  The Pirates will need both of those players return to form and hope that their rebuilt pitching staff holds up or they could well be left behind by the entire division.

And then there are the once and future champions in St Louis.  The Cardinals are a team in transition as the heroes of the early years of this century are moving towards the end of their careers and the baton is about to be passed to a very promising crop of prospects.  The Cardinal future appears very bright as St Louis’ talent-rich system is about to graduate many highly regarded prospects.  But prospects are just prospects.  It very much remains to be seen if talents like Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, Austin Gomber, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes can translate their potential into major league production.

At the crux of any return to contention by the Cards will be the performance of three established talents coming off disappointing seasons.  What St Louis gets out of Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Adam Wainwright will largely determine how the season plays out.  The Cards could use a little good fortune as they struggle to remain competitive in this division.

If they get half the good fortune the Cubs got last year, they should do OK.

The Film Room: Falcons Pass Defense Evolving

As they took the field for the first time last Sunday – with 9:41 left in the first quarter – the Atlanta Falcons defense – specifically their pass defense – was already suspect.  Through the first seven games, opposing quarterbacks had picked Atlanta’s squishy-soft zone defenses to the tune of a 67.2% completion rate (199 for 296).  Along the way they had surrendered 15 touchdown passes while only collecting 6 interceptions.  The lack of a consistent pass rush was one principal contributor.  They went into their Week Eight match-up with the Green Bay Packers (and elite quarterback Aaron Rodgers) with just 15 sacks (only 4.8% of the drop-backs against them).  The passer rating against them was a disappointing 96.9.  Top quarterbacks Drew Breese, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers had already stung them for over 300 yards.  Prospects against Rodgers were not encouraging.

Wearing the bullseye were the trio of cornerbacks: fourth-year players Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and un-drafted rookie Brian Poole.  Poole was unheralded coming out of Florida, but Trufant (first round) and Alford (second round) were high draft investments by the club in 2013.  Alford has been starting for most of the last three seasons and Trufant has been a starter since being drafted, going to last year’s Pro Bowl.  Considering the recent investment in the pass defense, the results have been more than a little disappointing.

But mid-way into the first quarter on Sunday, the struggles continued unabated.

On his first snap from scrimmage, Rodgers dropped a 3-yard pass to wide receiver Dante Adams, comfortably open in front of Alford.  After two running plays, Rodgers flipped a 58-yards toss to Jordy Nelson running free behind the linebackers and in front of the secondary.

After another running play, Nelson crossed from the right into the middle of the end zone where he found yet another vacant spot in the Falcon’s zone.  Rodgers delivered the ball, and Green Bay had jumped in front 7-3 with 6:08 left in the first.

Rodgers had attempted 3 passes in that opening drive, completing all of them for 66 yards and the touchdown.

And at that moment – for one day, at least – Atlanta stopped being a predominantly zone coverage team.  When they came back on the field (with 4:28 left in the first) they would play man coverage almost exclusively the rest of the way. And – although it wouldn’t be overly noticeable in the statistics – the whole tenor of the game changed on that decision.  Rodgers – who was as sharp and precise as we’ve seen him in a while – still completed 25 of his last 35 passes (71.4%) and threw 3 more touchdown passes against Atlanta’s man defense.  But the “big-play” was pretty completely removed from the equation from that point on.

After racking up 66 yards on his first three passes, Aaron’s last 25 completions accounted for only 180 yards.  He would have only 2 more completions that accounted for more than 20 yards. Facing a second-and-21 from his 46, Rodgers dumped a screen pass to Davante Adams who carried it 22 yards after rookie safety Keanu Neal (another first-round draft pick in the Falcon secondary) missed the tackle in the Falcon backfield.  With 17 seconds left in the first half, Nelson caught a 21-yard pass over the middle that looked like it was tipped by Trufant.

Contrast the relatively easy touchdown pass to Nelson described above with the nine-yard touchdown pass that Rodgers threw to Trevor Davis with 4:22 left in the half.  Davis lined up in the slot on the right.  At the snap, he veered sharply right toward the sideline, broke the pattern and drove up-field into the end zone, where he executed a sharp buttonhook and curled back toward the corner of the end zone.  Throughout the entire route, Poole stayed exactly on his inside hip, breaking perfectly every time Davis broke.  When it came, Rodgers’ pass almost scraped the top of the goal line marker as he fired it into the very tiny window about knee high to the receiver and just barely beyond Poole’s fingertips.

It was like that the whole afternoon.

In the second half, Coach Dan Quinn took the next step and started blitzing Rodgers at least a little.  I think I saw only one blitz from Atlanta in the first half.  They came about a half dozen times in the second half – and even when they didn’t blitz the pass rush came after Rodgers with more intensity.

The added pressure reduced Rodgers’ effectiveness even more.  Although he still completed 11 of 17 in the second half (64.7%), those completions only totaled 76 yards (just 6.91 per completion).  Nelson, who finished the first half with 94 receiving yards and a touchdown had no receptions in the second half and only 2 targets.

In the end, all of this was just enough for Atlanta to squeak past with a 33-32 victory – yet another 30 point game against the Falcons. But maybe an important turning point.

Why this is important is because the Falcons have been an offensive highlight reel during the season’s first half.  After another explosion last night in a 43-28 dismissal of Tampa Bay, the Falcons now sit at number one in the NFL in offense (both in yards and in points per game – now up to 33.9).  Atlanta’s chances of going deep in the playoffs will depend almost entirely on improvement in the defense currently sitting at number 25 in yards and 28 for scoring.

One game isn’t necessarily indicative of a season, but against the Packers last Sunday the Falcons man coverage schemes seemed competitive in a way their zone coverages never did.

The NFL Gamebook for this contest can be found here, while the Football Reference summary is here.

Week Eight Notebook: Patriots and Broncos Win Re-Matches

Thoughts on a couple of the more important Week Eight Games.

Patriots 41 – Bills 25

Behind the 41-25 blowout score was a game effort by a Buffalo squad minus star running back LeSean McCoy and three of their top five receivers (McCoy, Marquise Goodwin and Greg Salas).  Most impressive was the Buffalo run defense.  One week after being shredded by the Miami Dolphins to the tune of 256 rushing yards, they stuffed the Patriots sixth-ranked running game (which had averaged 122.7 rushing yards per game), holding them to just 72 yards and just 3.1 per carry.

Even minus McCoy, the surprising Bills running game (in the arms of Mike Gillislee) pushed New England off the line to the tune of 167 yards and 6.4 per carry.

Although we should point out that the Buffalo running game isn’t the grinding kind of running game you will see from a team like Dallas.  Buffalo is a big-play running attack that depends on scrambles from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to account for about a fourth of its yards (Tyrod scrambled for 48 on Sunday).

But this game was all about the distance between the quarterbacks.  The Patriots Tom Brady executed judgement on the Buffalo pass defense to the tune of 22 of 33 passing (66.7%) for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Brady averaged 9.55 yards per attempted pass and 14.32 yards per completion.  His passer rating was a very Brady-like 137.0.

Brady converted all four third-down on his opening touchdown drive, and went on to convert 9 of 13 for the game.  The result was that the Pats had two drives that lasted at least 6:30 among three drives of at least 12 plays.  Buffalo had 91 of its rushing yards in the first half, but trailed by two touchdowns at the break and couldn’t slow New England’s offense enough to be in a position to emphasize the run throughout the second half.

Meanwhile, Buffalo’s Taylor struggled all day long, finishing just 19 of 38 (50.0%) for 183 yards.  He averaged 4.82 yards per attempted pass and 9.63 yards per completed pass with no touchdowns.  Taylor didn’t toss an interception (he has thrown only 2 all season), but also missed several receivers in the red zone (and had a few passes dropped as well).  He was 10 for 23 in the first half and finished the game with a passer rating of 63.8.

During the game, referee John Parry’s crew called 22 penalties for an even 200 yards of penalties.  There were 12 penalty first-down in the game – 6 for each side.

The NFL Gamebook for this game can be found here, and the Football Reference summary is here.

 

Broncos 27 – Chargers 19

You never expect the same game-plan to work when you face a team for the second time in three weeks.  Everything that played out so perfectly for the Chargers three weeks ago unraveled last Sunday.

Where in their 21-13 victory in Week Six they played almost entirely zone coverage and dared Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian to throw deep into that coverage, in Week Eight they played a lot more man-to-man and tried to bring pressure on Siemian.  And to an extent they were successful.  Trevor – who entered the game completing 63.6% of his passes – hit on only 20 of 38.  But four of the completions went for more than 30 yards as Siemian finished with 276 passing yards.

This week, Trevor was much more willing to throw the ball downfield regardless of the coverage.  I say this in spite of the fact that he threw the ball downfield 9 times in Week Six, most of those coming in the waning moments of the game when things were getting desperate.  (He also threw 50 passes in that game, so 9 deep balls – by percentage – isn’t a very aggressive approach).

On Sunday, 8 of his 38 attempts flew more than 15 yards in the air – a much more confident ratio.

The biggest difference in the two games, however, was the contest between Phillip Rivers and the Denver Bronco pass defense.

In Week Six, Rivers completed 18 of 29 throws for 178 yards.  He threw 1 touchdown pass without an interception.  Only 4 of his passes went “down the field,” as he spent most of the game dropping the ball short and handing off (San Diego ran 29 times in that game).

Last Sunday Rivers chucked the ball 47 times (completing just 20 for 267 yards and 2 touchdowns).  Seven of those passes went up the field, and he would have thrown deep more except for the Denver pass rush – which you may remember from that Super Bowl thing.

Different this time around was linebacker DeMarcus Ware.  Absent with an injury for Week Six, Ware played 26 impactful snaps on Sunday.  Defensive end Derek Wolfe also spent a great deal of time in the Chargers’ offensive backfield, teaming with Von Miller to form the crux of a defensive front that made life more than a little miserable for Rivers and the Chargers.

In Week Six, San Diego kept the Bronco pass rush in check with quick passes and lots of runs.  Denver still showed themselves vulnerable to the run (San Diego finished with 123 rushing yards on 26 attempts), but they took away River’s short passes and turned on the pass rush.  The result was that Rivers – really for the first time this season – looked like the earlier versions of Phillip Rivers.  The ones prone to the big mistake as he panicked a little under the intensity of the rush.

In and through all of this, the Chargers might have won anyway, but for continuing failures in the kicking game and a persistent penchant for turning the ball over. With three more interceptions Sunday, San Diego has now turned the ball over 17 times in its last six games – serving up at least two in every game and three or more four times in those six games.

As for the field goal unit, Josh Lambo shanked a 45-yard field goal attempt and missed an extra-point (not all his fault as it was blocked).  That lost point encouraged Mike McCoy to go for the two-point after Casey Hayward returned an interception for a touchdown with 8:02 left in the game.  The score at that point stood Denver 24 – San Diego 19.  The two points would have made it a field goal game, but the attempt failed.  Had they made the previous field goal and the earlier extra-point, they could have kicked the extra point here and tied the game.

This has been a recurring theme in San Diego.  Death by their own hands.  Until they clean up the little things they will continue to slip behind in this division.

The NFL Gamebook for this game can be found here, and the Football Reference summary is here.