Jets’ ‘Upset of the Year’ Tops 10 NFL Takeaways From Week 9

Sauce Gardner Jets

Getty New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner.

The New York Jets defense came of age, and legitimized the AFC East race, pulling off one of the monumental upsets of the NFL season, 20-17 over the Buffalo Bills.

When Josh Allen’s Hail Mary to field goal territory intended for Gabriel Davis with 33 seconds remaining was broken up by Jets star rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner, Robert Saleh’s Jets validated their season and announced their presence once and for all in the AFC playoff chase.

There’s no doubting the Jets now. Saleh’s team is for real.

New York’s character shone through from start to finish, holding Allen to 205 yards — 69 below his season average –keeping the typically turbocharged Bills to just 17 points. Offensively, the Jets bulldozed Buffalo’s front-seven 86 yards — primarily on the ground — on a march to the game-winning field goal with 1:43 remaining.

These Jets pack a punch, and they are here to stay.

For every haymaker the Bills threw the Jets’ way, such as a Von Miller strip-sack of quarterback Zach Wilson with 6:21 remaining in the third quarter, the Jets counter-punched; such as a Gardner interception on the ensuing series.

Sunday was an old-fashioned slugfest in the Swamps of Jersey, as Saleh’s Jets defense slammed the door on the Bills’ last-gasp comeback hopes.

Nearly as impressive as beating an AFC Super Bowl heavyweight, and division rival, New York also held Allen without a touchdown pass for the first time since Week 16 of the 2021 season.

“It was a huge step forward,” a Jets front-office staffer told Heavy following Sunday’s victory. “And an even bigger confidence boost.”

There’s something fitting about Wilson managing a chaotic game to perfection, Gardner stepping up and making the kind of plays he’s made all season to seal the win, and it being the Jets’ young stars powering the upset of the year.

Wins like the Jets’ over the Bills are the kind that thread the culture that Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas are aiming to build.

Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 9 action.

Tom Brady Stiff-Arms Father Time, Keeps Buccaneers Alive

Tom Brady would not go quietly into the night, or let the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ season slip away.

Just when it appeared Father Time had trapped Brady in his hourglass, when Buccaneers wide receiver Scotty Miller dropped a pass that hit him in the hands in the back of the end zone, ultimately handing the ball back to the Rams with a chance to ice the game, the GOAT summoned yet another round of late-game heroics.

The clock in Raymond James Stadium read 35 seconds remaining, the scoreboard said Rams 16, Buccaneers 13, and then Brady rewrote the script into a more familiar ending.

Just six plays and 33 seconds later, Brady found Buccaneers tight end Cade Otton in the flat, who practically walked in for a 1-yard game-winning touchdown. Ballgame, 16-13 Buccaneers, Brady’s 54th game-winning drive into the history books.

Had 2022 Brady failed once again in another big spot, the Buccaneers would have limped to Munich for next Sunday’s showdown with the Seahawks having lost four straight. But, Tampa’s postseason hopes remain alive after Brady drank from the Fountain of Youth the opportunity remains there for this team to return to the postseason given three remaining division games inside an NFC South they now lead at 4-5.

Tampa is living on a razor’s edge, but at least Sunday it appears Brady still has what it takes to lead the Buccaneers through this stretch run’s looming tests.

Justin Fields Comes of Age

It really is amazing what a difference play-calling for a quarterback’s gifts can make.

Sunday in Chicago against the Miami Dolphins, the Bears turned Justin Fields loose.

Five days after acquiring wide receiver Chase Claypool in a blockbuster trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy seeming tailored the game plan to Fields’ strengths.

Fields responded in kind, completing 17-of-23 passes for 123 yards with a career-high 3 touchdowns.

While the Bears’ comeback bid came up short, 35-32, it’s almost beside the bigger point. Fields and the Bears appear to have figured each other out.

With 11:20 remaining in the third quarter, Fields saw the seas part along the line of scrimmage as coverage downfield locked down his receivers, before slicing and dicing the Dolphins’ defense for the kind of 61-yard touchdown scramble he made routine at Ohio State.

Finally freed to freelance, Fields rushed for 178 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in a regular-season game, and very nearly led Chicago all the way back, by scoring 4 total touchdowns.

“The combination of letting him run the football, and his familiarity with the new playbook has been a really potent one,” an NFC scout told Heavy, of Fields.

Throughout Sunday’s game, Fields rewarded the coaching staff’s continued efforts to build a scheme around his best traits.

The 23-year-old looked more confident than ever, both with his arm and on the run. Fields’ coming-of-age performance was especially impressive because it came against a defense that entered Sunday ranked No. 6 against the run, holding opponents to just 100.6 rushing yards per game.

If Week 9 is a glimpse into the next stage of Fields’ development, Chicago is going to be well-served by the cap space and draft capital added by general manager Ryan Poles ahead of the NFL trade deadline to continue building the Bears around what Fields does best.

Tyreek Hill Chasing History

Tyreek Hill’s season of ridiculous productiveness continues.

To say Hill’s connection with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been instant and prolific wouldn’t be giving it justice.

Each week, Hill reaches for new heights.

Sunday afternoon, Hill surpassed 140 receiving yards for the fifth time this season, after catching 7 of 8 targets for 143 yards and 1 touchdown.

After 9 games, Hill has already produced 1,104 receiving yards. That isn’t a misprint.

What might be most impressive about Hill’s output is the fact that his counterpart in the Dolphins’ vertical passing game, Jaylen Waddle, has added 812 receiving yards of his own.

As CBS Sports points out, Hill has already produced more receiving yards than 8 NFL teams through 9 weeks.

It’s no surprise Hill has emerged as Tagovailoa’s favorite target. The Dolphins’ star quarterback has a 106.3 passer rating on his 92 targets and is averaging 14.52 yards per reception.

Should Hill keep his current pace, 122.6 yards per game, he’d become the first receiver in NFL history to surpass 2,000 yards, leaving Calvin Johnson’s single-season reception yardage record of 1,964 in the dust.

Hill will have a real chance.

Of the Dolphins’ final eight opponents of the season, only four currently reside inside the top-10 passing defenses in the league.

Following Sunday’s 35-32 thriller over the Bears, the Dolphins remain very much a factor in the suddenly loaded AFC East, and Hill has been instrumental to Miami’s rapid ascension.

Dalvin Cook is Minnesota Vikings’ Bailout

The Minnesota Vikings‘ offense desperately needed its playmakers to step up in the fourth quarter, trailing the Commanders 17-7 with 5:18 remaining in Washington.

That’s when running back Dalvin Cook answered the bell.

Cook ran hard in the fourth quarter, effectively willing his team across the finish line to avoid an embarrassing upset. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise, though, because the fourth quarter is Cook’s quarter.

Sunday afternoon, with 7:52 remaining in the game, Cook pulled down a 12-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to pull the Vikings even. In his career, Cook’s 8.5 yards per catch average is his highest in any quarter, and Sunday’s game-tying score was his 2nd 4th quarter receiving touchdown.

All told, Cook finished Sunday’s contest rushing for just 47 yards, while adding a pair of receptions for 9 yards and 1 touchdown. But, Cook was vital to the Vikings pulling off a critical victory to improve to 7-1.

With the lone blemish currently on Minnesota’s record being an opening-night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings have the inside track on the No. 2 seed in the conference.

Geno Smith Deserving of MVP Votes

Geno Smith is going to receive MVP votes, and they’re going to be deserved.

The Seattle Seahawks, one of the pluckier surprises of the 2022 season, continue to stake claim to the NFC West. After knocking off the Cardinals 31-21 on Sunday in Arizona, it is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers.

Against the Cardinals, Smith completed 26-of-34 passes for 275 yards with 2 touchdowns to 1 interception, while adding 38 rushing yards.

Smith’s most impressive throw came on a 4-yard strike to D.K. Metcalf into an impossibly tight window against Cardinals defensive back Antonio Hamilton, for a touchdown.

Smith’s Sunday wasn’t without blemish — the tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown, but, the veteran picked himself off the mat and orchestrated a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett to put Seattle back on top. An MVP-level response.

Without Smith, and without him playing easily the most consistently dominant football of his career, the Seahawks aren’t sniffing the postseason. Let alone leading the division.

The Raiders Should Have Left Josh McDaniels on the Tarmac

In 2021, former Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer infamously skipped the team-flight home from a Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. But, on Sunday, it should have been the Las Vegas Raiders who told Josh McDaniels to find his own way home from Jacksonville.

McDaniels and the Raiders have reached a crisis point.

Sunday against the Jaguars, Vegas raced out to a 17-0 lead on the back of a pair of Davante Adams touchdown catches with 11:00 remaining in the second quarter. But, after failing score again following a Daniel Carlson field goal to go up 20-7 in the waning moments of the first half, the Raiders lost 27-20.

At this point, it is becoming evident that the Raiders and McDaniels don’t know how to win.

So far this season, the Raiders have coughed up leads of 20-0 (vs. Arizona), 17-0 (@ Kansas City), and now 17-0 on Sunday, and lost all three games.

There have already been several closed-door post-game and in-week meetings involving McDaniels as well as of the players-only variety.

But, at 2-6, the Raiders’ postseason hopes are all but officially dashed. It is becoming very fair to wonder if McDaniels is anything close to the answer long-term in Vegas.

It’s Past Time for the Green Bay Packers to Call Odell Beckham Jr.

Sunday was among the more disastrous Green Bay Packers losses in recent franchise history, going down to the division rival Lions 15-9 without much of a fight.

The Packers’ wide receiving corps has lacked an identity all season, and the growing pains from rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson have only fueled MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ frustrations. And the Packers’ offensive ineptitude.

After Doubs suffered an injury on the Packers’ opening possession against the Detroit Lions, if it were ever time for Green Bay to make a call and make an offer to Odell Beckham Jr. that the star receiver can’t refuse, it’s now.

Green Bay has reportedly been one of the teams interested in Beckham Jr., though his health remains uncertain as he continues to recover from a torn ACL, but the Packers check most of Beckham’s boxes for a potential destination. Beckham would certainly give the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes a boost, Rodgers is still fundamentally sound as a passer, and the 30-year-old would rise atop the MVP’s target hierarchy.

In eight games with the Los Angeles Rams in 2021, Beckham caught 27 passes for 305 yards and 5 touchdowns, prior to becoming an instrumental cog in the Rams’ Super Bowl run. This season, Allen Lazard is the only Packers receiver who has produced more than 300 receiving yards through nine weeks.

If not now, for the Packers and Beckham, when?

No T.J. Hockenson, No Problem for Lions

The Detroit Lions traded away tight end T.J. Hockenson to the division rival Minnesota Vikings in the hours before the NFL’s November 1 trade deadline, shipping away one of quarterback Jared Goff’s most reliable red zone weapons.

But, Sunday against the Packers, Detroit’s red zone offense didn’t skip a beat.

With Hockenson out, tight end James Mitchell played a key role in the Lions’ offense, catching both of his targets for 8 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to put Detroit out front for good.

Detroit’s efficiency in the red zone, converting 2-of-3 trips into touchdowns and both goal-to-go opportunity into scores, as the Lions’ defense shut the Packers out in both categories, proved instrumental in Sunday’s 15-9 black-and-blue win.

The Lions effectively ended the Packers’ season, as Green Bay falls to 3-6. It also practically handed the NFC North to the Minnesota Vikings who have a five-game cushion in the loss column. But, most importantly in the Motor City, Sunday also proved to everyone in that locker room, and in that building, that the toughness head coach Dan Campbell has preached since arrival can pay dividends.

It’s Time the Colts Clean House

It hasn’t mattered who is behind center for the Indianapolis Colts; Matt Ryan or Sam Ehlinger, this hasn’t resembled anything close to a functional offense.

If there were any hope that firing offensive coordinator Marcus Brady would somehow alter the identity of the Colts’ offense, despite head coach Frank Reich calling the plays, those were proven fool-hearted against the New England Patriots.

The Patriots held Ehlinger to 103 yards, he was sacked 9 times, and he threw an interception. As the Colts’ passing game was stuck in neutral, the running game nearly slipped into reverse, producing only 78 yards.

How dysfunctional were the Colts against the Patriots? Indianapolis averaged 2.0 yards per play on offense.

After five offseasons with Chris Ballard at the helm, as general manager, and four-plus with Reich as head coach, it’s almost unfathomable that the Colts’ offense could be this inept.

Ballard traded for Carson Wentz, and a year later, traded for Ryan. Likewise, Reich has won just one playoff game, the 2018 AFC Wild Card.

It is becoming painfully obvious that while some coaches are brilliant coordinators — Reich was legitimately an influential and needed consigliere to Doug Pederson during the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl championship, they don’t make successful head coaches.

Colts owner Jim Irsay appears earnest enough and seemingly wants to win.

In order to not risk wasting some brilliant defensive talent; Shaquille Leonard, Zaire Franklin, Stephon Gillmore, etc., Irsay may need to make the difficult decision and bring about sweeping change from Ballard on down to Reich.

Otherwise, given Reich and Ballard’s track record, what’s the point?

James Brown Wins the Day

Nothing more important or impactful occurred during Week 9, or any NFL Sunday, than James Brown’s message on CBS’ NFL Today.

A Harvard University graduate with a degree in American Government, Brown looked into the eyes a nation torn to tatters by the divisive forces of hate and antisemitism that have been rapidly strangling out the joy and brotherhood of American life and offered hope.

Brown’s message echoed that of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s “Stand Up To Jewish Hate” advertisement that ran across the broadcasts of Week 8’s NFL action.

The issue of hate has been injected into sports in recent weeks in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s anti-Semitic comments, and into American pop culture after Kanye West’s similar comments. Kraft’s actions and Brown’s Sunday monologue offered an example of the platform of the NFL to fight back against the hateful ideas that have found a home in echo chambers across factions of American society.

“Folks, hate is a disease,” Brown said. “It is a virus that spreads and kills. Now, to cast doubt on, or state definitively, that The Holocaust did not happen, that’s as hurtful and wrong as saying the lynching of Black people didn’t happen. Or, that being enslaved is a choice.

“To perpetuate hurtful and false narratives, to refuse to disavow bigoted messages, and to fail to take responsibility when one’s actions and words inflict harm, is simply unacceptable. Words matter. Especially coming from highly visible people. Their words influence people’s attitudes and behaviors.

“I pray fervently that those with hearts of teamwork, togetherness, and love will speak more loudly and persuasively to prevail against this viciousness. No matter how idealistic this may sound, it is the truth because that is how we defeat hate.”

The basic values of American life, that have been handed down in this nation for generations feel like they are at stake. Especially because among a growing faction of our brothers and sisters, their fundamental safety is at stake.

Brown, and Kraft, and anyone with the fortitude to stand in the face of racism, antisemitism, and vile hatred by instead offering love and hope deserve to be commended just as vociferously as the comments they are responding to deserve condemnation.

Week 9 MVP: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

With Ja’Marr Chase sidelined, it was expected Tyler Boyd or Tee Higgins would more than make up for the lost production from the star receiver’s absence. Nope.

The Bengals’ offense was prolific as ever against the surrendering Carolina Panthers, producing 464 yards of total offense, but it was running back Joe Mixon who led the charge. Mixon rushed for 113 yards and 4 touchdowns, in the first half.

By game’s end, Mixon finished with 153 yards and 5 total scores, while averaging 6.95 yards per carry as the Bengals kept pace in the AFC North race with a decisive, blowout victory over the Panthers.

Week 9 Breakout Star: Kerby Joseph, S, Detroit Lions

This has been more like a multi-week breakout for Kerby Joseph.

The rookie third-round pick made some of the biggest plays of his career on Sunday, playing an instrumental role in the Lions’ victory over the archrival Packers. Joseph produced 10 total tackles, intercepted a team-high 2 passes and broke up a team-high 3 passes.

Over the past three weeks, though, Joseph has been one of the Lions’ focal points on defense. Joseph has now created a turnover in each of the past three weeks, including forcing a fumble each of the past two games. The Lions are very much a work in progress, especially on defense, but Joseph is quickly earning a starring role in the secondary.

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