By David McDonnell
When it comes to late drama, the NFL delivered again with eight of yesterday’s matches finishing as one-score games with a few surprises thrown in to boot.
In the early window, there were even three games simultaneously tied with a 17-17 scoreline and with less than two minutes left in each of the contests. More on that to follow, because first I’m going to start with what turned out to be arguably the best game of the day.
In boxing, they say styles make fights and this was a contest between the team that loves to run the ball against the side that loves to throw the ball, when the Titans visited the Chiefs in the late kick-off.
Titans v Chiefs
Tennessee were extremely physical throughout, particularly on defence and they gave the Kansas O-line all they wanted of it and more. At the start of the second quarter Patrick Mahommes threw quickly to Mecole Hardman and wideout stepped inside a challenge to score the opening touchdown.
Tennessee came primed for battle and went to boss the game for the rest of the half.
They put their ambition behind their talented running-back Derek Henry and he was essentially unstoppable as he routinely gained yardage and took off on long forays upfield. His threat opened up the read-option for rookie QB Malik Willis and the two, in tandem, were dangerous in the opening half. Henry ran in from close range on their first drive of the second quarter and on their next possession, he broke a tackle and set off on a 56-yard run.
Willis then found Austin Hooper with a back-shoulder throw to bring the play to the one-yard line and Henry did the honours by adding his second touchdown.
The Titans running game was motoring. In contrast the Chiefs rushing attack was non-existent and they only managed five yards of running offence in the whole first half. Mahomes was picked off by Roger McCreary, which ended up with the Titans extending their lead to 17-9 and by the start of the fourth quarter the Chiefs had seven consecutive possessions with zero points.
By this stage Kansas were giving Willis one-on-one coverage to all his receivers but he couldn’t take advantage. The Titans passing statistics in the second half added up minus-two yards as the Chiefs loaded the box, and Willis only completed five passes all night. In direct contrast, the Kansas QB threw 68 times completing 43.
In the fourth quarter, Mahomes grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and he ran 20 yards to pick up an important first down on third and 17.
He ended the drive by setting off on a scramble and weaving his way into the endzone for a touchdown.
Mahomes then ran to the left pylon to convert the two-point conversion to tie the game 17-17! In overtime, Mahomes again let his team upfield and Harrison Butker made up for missing two earlier attempts by kicking the winning score.
17-17, 17-17, 17 -17
Bills v Jets
With the trifecta of games that were tied 17-17 with under two minutes remaining, the most surprising situation of the three was the New York Jets tying with the Super Bowl favourites Buffalo Bills.
It looked business as usual when Josh Allen ran in for his second rushing TD from 25 yards to give the Bills a 14-3 lead but he struggled from then on getting sacked five fives and intercepted twice. The game was stopped in the third quarter when a camera hung unconventionally over the field.
The Jets defence has been excellent all season and Allen was made to pay for some errant throwing by being intercepted by rookie phenom corner-back Sauce Gardner. The Jets O-line became the dominant unit on the field and just like last week against the Packers, the Bills defence struggled to stop the run. On first and goal, Zach Wilson threw to James Robinson who saw himself into the endzone to give the Jets a three-point lead.
Although Tyler Bass soon tied the game, the Jets took a late lead when ‘Greg the Leg’ Zeurlein kicked Gang Green back in front. It gave MVP candidate Josh Allen a chance to drive down the field for the win but the Jets defence stopped him getting any yardage to hold out for a massive win for Robert Salah’s men.
Vikings v Commanders
The second game tied at 17-17 entering the final moments was at FedEx Field where Kirk Cousins returned for his first game in the US capital since he left Washington as a free agent in 2018. On his first drive he found Justin Jefferson but his counterpart Taylor Heineke hit back when Curtis Samuel came up with a great catch, despite being surrounded by three defensive backs.
When Cousins was later intercepted, the home crowd started chanting ‘We like that’ and they took a 7-16 lead when Heineke found Dax Milne on a whip-route in the endzone. Cousins was a man about business and when Heinicke was intercepted by Harrison Smith, Cousins found Dalvin Cook with a deft pass at the back of the endzone to tie the game.
The Vikes added a late field goal with 12 seconds left and it is fair to say that Cousins enjoyed the plane back to Minnesota.
Chargers v Falcons
Tied 17-17 late in the fourth quarter came the most significant and craziest play of the contest, wait … make that the whole weekend.
By this stage, Bolts running Austin Ekeler had scored his ninth and 10th touchdown of the season and not to be outdone Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson added his second TD of the contest, when he trucked a lineman over as he smashed his way into the endzone.
When Marcus Mariota overthrew his 6 ‘6 tight-end Kyle Pitts, it gave the impressive Justin Herbert, who looked a lot fresher after a bye-week, a chance to win the game. He brought his team down the field and a field goal would see them to victory. Then this happened.
The first fumble would have tied the game for Atlanta but the double-fumble gave San Diego a second chance and this time new recruit Cameron Dicker kicked the winning score as time ticked away. ‘Dicker the Kicker’ was carried off the field by his new teammates in celebration.
Dolphins v Bears
This was the highest scoring contest on Sunday as a 35-32 shootout erupted at a sunny Soldier Field. It turned into a duel where the two protagonists Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Fields, both delivered for their respective sides.
Tua threw for over 300 yards and found both his favourite targets Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle in the endzone. Fields threw three touchdowns, two to Cole Kmet and a wonderful pass to Darnell Mooney and his performance was reminiscent of Lamar Jackson, as he did extensive damage with his legs.
On the day, he set a regular-season record for a quarterback by rushing for 178 yards, while adding this auspicious touchdown.
Fields is continuing to build on his recent good form and is turning into an unmissable player to watch in the NFL. The most important score of the contest came when Tua found his new teammate Jeff Wilson for a two score lead.
There was late Tom Brady magic as the Bucs overcame the Rams in the final minute. It was the first time the Tampa offence kicked into life in the whole contest on another day where they couldn’t run the ball. The Rams only touchdown was a pass to Cooper Kupp who took off downfield for a 69 yard TD.
Trailing 13-9, Brady started the drive with 44 seconds left on the clock. He found tight-end Cade Otten with a 28-yard pass play and spiked the ball with 24 seconds left. He then found Scottie Miller twice in a row who got out of bounds to stop the clock. And on first and goal, Brady found Otten again, this time to take a lead with only 13 seconds left.
The best player on the field was man-mountain Vita Vea who finished with three sacks. Vea has been the best defensive tackle I have seen in football this season, which is saying something as Aaron Donald also had an impressive performance for the LA franchise.
Afterwards Brady, who became the first QB in history to throw for over 100,000 yards, shared his delight with the win.
As impressive as that statistic is, he has a long way to go to reach Kirk Cousins level of celebration.
Joe Mixon had a red-letter day when he had 211 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns as the Bengals stormed into a 7-42 lead against the Panthers. Baker Mayfield came off the bench to make the score look a more respectable 21-42.
The Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers as Aaron Rodgers had a grumpy day at the office getting picked three times by rookies; twice by Kerby Joseph and once by Aiden Hutchinson.
Another rookie, tight-end James Mitchell’s touchdown catch made it a two score game and although Green Pay reduced the gap to seven, Detroit managed to keep them out in the final quarter. It was a much needed win for Dan Campbell who said he wanted to go home and relax with a beer.
The band rolls on for Geno Smith and the Seattle Seahawks as they won an entertaining game in Glendale Arizona. The Cards took a third quarter lead when Geno was picked by Zaven Collins for the Cards’ fifth defensive TD of the season. Smith went on to find Typer Lockett to retake the lead, before rookie sensation Kyler Murray added two more touchdowns to see out the game.
Travis Etienne scored two touchdowns as the Jaguars came back from 17-0 down to beat the Raiders to leave the Las Vegas franchise, already preparing for next season.
The Colts are almost flying the white flag as well as their quarterback Sam Ehlinger took nine sacks and their offence only scored three points as the Patriots defence snuffed them out for a routine victory.
It leaves the Bills, Jets and Dolphins all with six wins in the AFC East, with the Patriots only one win behind.
Watch out for our Monday Night Football preview column later today as the Baltimore Ravens travel to the Superdome to take on the New Orleans Saints.