NFL Week 9 Recap: Eagles and Vikings Win Thrillers, Stroud Sets Record
Who knew that all the NFL needed was that extra hour of sleep to produce its most dramatic and compelling weekend of the season.
Daylight Savings Sunday ushered in a handful of palm-sweating thrillers and key conference and divisional matchups that surely had fans with one eye on January:
—Was the Germany showdown between Miami and Kansas City a preview of a playoff head-to-head?
—Would the Buffalo-Cincinnati Sunday night game foreshadow a playoff rematch between two teams who met in last year’s postseason?
—Would Vegas’ interim head coach Antonio Pierce get a win in his NFL debut?
—Might we see one the very worst offensive performances in the Super Bowl era of the NFL?
—Could NFL fans be blindsided by mesmerizing finishes from unlikely matchups?
We are neither seers nor soothsayers, so the answers to the first two questions will not be known until after the turn of the new year. As for the final three questions, we can answer with a resounding “YES.”
Here’s a recap of a mind-bending Week 9 of the NFL season.
— NFL WEEK 9 RECAP —
BYES: Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, San Francisco
Los Angeles Chargers 27, New York Jets 6 (MNF)
It seems fitting that the two starting New York quarterbacks — the Jets’ Zach Wilson and the Giants’ Daniel Jones — play at “MetLife” Stadium. We can only hope they both have Cadillac insurance plans, given the beating they regularly take behind their respective offensive lines.
The Chargers’ defense sacked Wilson eight times and forced three turnovers as the Chargers evened their record on the season.
Derius Davis started things off for Los Angeles when he returned a punt 87 yards in the first quarter to put the Chargers up, 7-0. The special teams play and lockdown Chargers defense offset a subpar performance by LA quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 136 yards and was himself sacked five times.
The Jets' pass defense continues to play at a high level and kept New York within striking distance (theoretically). The key stretch was a 16-play, 68-yard drive by Los Angeles that bridged the third and fourth quarters. The Chargers converted four third downs on the march, highlighted by a spectacular spinning one-handed catch along the sideline by WR Keenan Allen, which set up a Cameron Dicker field goal to make it 20-6. (Allen grabbed eight passes for 77 yards, surpassing 10,000 yards receiving in his terrific career. The veteran is second only to Hall of Fame candidate Antonio Gates in franchise history.)
Any thoughts of a Jets rally were squashed when Khalil Mack forced a Wilson fumble on the ensuing drive that Chargers safety Alohi Gilman returned to the New York 2-yard line. Austin Ekeler punched it in from there, his second TD run of the night, to put the game out of reach.
Going up against a makeshift and ineffective Jets line, Mack collected two sacks, and Joey Bosa, his pass-rushing pal on the other side, seemed to pummel the Jets' QB all night. He registered 2.5 sacks and had multiple pressures on Wilson, whose questionable pocket presence was on clear display throughout.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for New York (4-4) and dropped them a game behind AFC East-leading Miami in the loss column.
Kansas City 21, Miami 14 (Frankfurt, Germany)
The Chiefs (7-2) weathered a second-half rally to beat the Dolphins (6-3) and put down stakes on hosting the AFC playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Trailing big at intermission, the Dolphins made a game of it in the third quarter. A Tua Tagvailoa touchdown pass to Cedric Wilson Jr. and a Raheem Mostert run cut the deficit to 21-14. Late in the fourth, Miami moved the ball into Chiefs territory with a chance to tie, but three straight incompletions and a Tua fumbled snap on fourth down ended the comeback.
In a game of two halves, the first belonged to Kansas City, which built a 14-0 lead on two Patrick Mahomes TD throws. Nearing halftime, with Miami driving, KC corner Bryan Cook, on one of the most spectacular defensive plays of the year, went 59 yards with a Tyreek fumble to put the Chiefs up 21-0.
The Dolphins were shut out in the first half for the first time in 40 games (since early 2021). The Chiefs defense held a Miami offense averaging 453 yards per game to just 110 in the first half.
For the day, the KC D limited Hill to 62 yards receiving and Tua to 193 yards passing. It was the fifth game this season that the Chiefs held an opponent under 17 points.
But the Chiefs offense also sputtered, especially in the second half. Mahomes finished with a pedestrian 185 yards, though the distribution of his passes was as democratic as one could imagine — eight different Chiefs caught at least two passes, with none catching more than three. Mahomes also lost a fumble in the third quarter as the Dolphins pressured him repeatedly during their comeback.
Houston 40, Tampa Bay 37
In the most unpredictably thrilling game of the 2023 season, No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud hit rookie receiver Tank Dell on a 15-yard strike with six seconds left to give the Texans a dramatic win over Baker Mayfield and the visiting Bucs.
The play capped off a last-minute 70-yard drive and a historic day for Stroud, who tied an NFL rookie record with five touchdown passes and set a new rookie mark for passing yards with 470. The TD was the second scoring grab for Dell. He was one of three Texans’ offensive players to record more than 100 receiving yards on the day, led by Noah Brown, whose 153 yards featured a 75-yard TD catch.
Stroud’s performance further validates the evaluations of those who put observation and film evidence above test scores. As for those who do the opposite…we hope the next test iteration (the "S3"?) will be a marked improvement.
The fourth quarter alone was a remarkable event that saw three lead changes. With their regular placekicker injured, Houston repeatedly bypassed field goal and PAT attempts. With under nine minutes remaining, emergency placekicker Dare Ogunbowale kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the Texans up, 33-30. (With their regular placekicker injured, Houston bypassed field goal and PAT attempts throughout the game.) Then, with under two minutes left, Mayfield (21-of-30, two TDs) directed a 10-play 61-yard drive, finishing with a 14-yard TD pass to Cade Otton put up the Bucs up four points.
Forty-six seconds remained. Just enough time for the game-winning heroics of Stroud and Dell to unfold.
The win keeps Houston’s playoff hopes very much alive. A tough loss for Tampa (3-5), who failed to keep pace with NFL South-leading New Orleans.
Minnesota 31, Atlanta 28
Reserve QB Josh Dobbs threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Powell with 22 seconds left to lift the Vikings (5-4) to a victory almost as dramatic as what took place in Houston.
The TD pass to Powell was Dobbs’ second of the day, capping a 75-yard drive in just two minutes. This came just after the Falcons regained the lead, 28-24, with seven-minute, 79-yard march of their own, led by powerful running of Tyler Allegeier, who plowed into the end zone from five yards out.
In perhaps the most compelling storyline of the 2023 season, Dobbs — in just his fifth day with the team — came through in relief of injured starting QB Jaren Hall, himself replacing the injured Kirk Cousins. Dobbs finished 20-of-30 for 158 yards and two passing TDs.
But he damaged the Falcons’ defense as much with his legs, running for 68 yards, including an 18-yard game-tying score in the third quarter. He also ran 22 yards on a critical play on the game-winning drive, and repeatedly escaped pressure to make key throws.
The win was Minnesota’s fourth straight, as their remarkable turnaround from a 1-4 start continues. They remain two games behind Detroit for the NFC North lead, but are now in the thick of the wildcard race.
For Atlanta (4-5), the loss was a bruising one; the Falcons dropped out of a tie with first-place New Orleans in the NFC South. QB Taylor Heinicke, in his first start taking over for the benched Desmond Ridder, threw for 268 yards and one touchdown, a 75-yard screen pass that WR Jonnu Smith took the distance.
Baltimore 37, Seattle 3
The Ravens again proved why M&T Bank Stadium is not a welcoming place for visiting teams to play. Two weeks after smashing once NFC division leader (Detroit), the Ravens did so again, this time taking the NFC West’s Seattle Seahawks to the woodshed.
The story of the day off was the Ravens’ ground game game against the Seattle defense, which came in as a top-10 unit against the run. Baltimore rushed for a staggering 298 yards, led by rookie undrafted free-agent back Keaton Mitchell, who posted 138 on just nine carries, including a touchdown from 40 yards. QB Lamar Jackson added 60 yards rushing, in addition to his 21-of-26 passing for 158 yards. All told, Baltimore registered 29 first downs and averaged nearly seven yards per play in churning out 515 yards of total offense.
Seattle’s offense could muster just six first downs. The Seahawks’ running attack (28 yards total) was dreadful. Identified as keys to this game, Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet managed just 24 yards rushing between them. The gap between Seattle’s inability to run and the Ravens’ borderline epic ground game largely explains the whopping 20+-minute advantage Baltimore held in time of possession.
Seattle (5-3) falls into a first-place tie with idle San Francisco. The Ravens (7-2) maintain control of the AFC and keep pace with Kansas City for best record in the AFC. If the last two wins at M&T account for anything, the Ravens will be formidable in January if they lock down homefield advantage.
New Orleans 24, Chicago 17
A three-yard pass from Saints’ backup QB Taysom Hill to Juwan Johnson early in the fourth quarter gave the Saints the margin for victory.
But the real difference in this game was turnovers.
Surprisingly, Chicago led for much of the first half, thanks to two touchdown passes from undrafted rookie quarterback Tyler Bagent to tight end Cole Kmet. The two teams were tied at halftime and, after exchanging third-quarter field goals (including a 55-yard bomb by New Orleans’ Blake Grupe), remained deadlocked heading into the fourth.
Then things went really haywire for the Bears’ Bagent.
After Hill to Johnson put New Orleans up 24-17 with 11 minutes left in the game, Bagent proceeded to turn the ball over on three of Chicago’s next four possessions, though New Orleans was unable to capitalize and build its lead. Two of those interceptions went to cornerback Paulson Adebo, who picked off Bagent twice on the day. Bagent’s final miscue was a fumble caused by New Orleans linebacker Demario Davis with two minutes remaining, which ended the Bears’ chances.
In total, Chicago turned the ball over five times and committed eight penalties.
By contrast, New Orleans did not turn the ball over, which allowed them to escape with a win despite losing to the Bears in most statistical categories. The Saints’ offense, which showed signs of improvement last week in Indy, went back to its maddening inefficiency. They again could not establish a running game as Alvin Kamara ran for just 26 yards. QB Derek Carr threw for 211 yards but it took 34 passes to get there. On the positive side of the ledger, Carr did throw two TDs.
Most importantly he threw zero interceptions.
The Saints’ win coupled with the Tampa Bay loss to Houston puts New Orleans in first place in the NFC South. For Chicago, the Bears hope that Justin Fields returns soon so they can determine whether to continue to build the young quarterback — or go fishing for one in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Washington 20, New England 17
Defensive back Jartavius Martin intercepted a Mac Jones pass with 38 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Commanders. With New England nearly in position for a game-tying field goal, Martin corralled Jones’ 2nd-and-8 pass at Washington’s 33-yard line after it went through the hands of Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The play ended not just the game but a scoreless fourth quarter. Washington placekicker Joey Slye broke a 17-17 tie with a 30-yard field goal near the end of the third quarter.
Until Martin’s interception, Jones played a clean game, throwing for 220 yards and a TD pass to tight end Hunter Henry. However, he and the New England offense struggled on third down, going just 3-of-12, which kept the Patriots defense on the field most of the day. Washington won the time of possession battle by 14 minutes.
Conversely, the Commanders converted 9-of-17 third downs as, for the first time in weeks, QB Sam Howell put together fine back-to-back performances. Howell threw for 325 yards and one touchdown, a beautifully thrown 33-yard post pattern to Jahon Dotson. Terry McLaurin led Washington receivers with five catches for 73 yards. Though the offensive line allowed three more sacks, the Commanders were able to run the ball better (124 yards) than in weeks past.
Washington (4-5) improved its positioning for a playoff run and must travel to Seattle next week. The misery of the 2023 Patriots continues — at 2-7, New England lays claim to the worst record in the AFC.
Cleveland 27, Arizona 0
The big news for Cleveland at the start of the day was the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He threw two touchdowns in the shutout win, one to Amari Cooper, who had a huge day with five catches and 159 yards receiving.
But the story of the game was the play of the other offense. One could be excused for thinking the Cardinals on that side of the ball had never before seen a slab of pigskin laced into spherical shape.
In one of the most dismal efforts put forth in Super Bowl-era history, the Cardinals managed just 58 total yards of offense. Other numbers spotlighted the ineptitude: 1-of-12 on third conversions, 41 yards rushing, 1.2 yards per PLAY. The 58 total yards was the lowest for the Cardinals franchise in more than 50 years.
Try this on for size. Cleveland finished with more plays (71) than Arizona DID YARDS.
Some credit — perhaps much of it — goes to the Browns defense, which came in ranked No. 1 overall and first against the pass. It sacked starting QB Clayton Tune seven times and held the Arizona passing game to an incredible 17 yards. Five different Cleveland defenders recorded a sack, led by Calvin Tomlinson’s 2.5 sacks. Myles Garrett sacked Tune once, giving him 9.5 on the season. A key play occurred in the third quarter when defensive lineman Shelby Harris knocked the ball out of Tune’s hands. Cleveland recovered deep in Arizona territory and cashed in immediately, on a five-yard Watson TD pass to tight end David Njoku.
The score made it 20-0. For an undermanned Arizona team that showed so much tenacity for much of this season, it might as well have been that same score — on a 500-yard field.
Tune replaced Josh Dobbs, who pulled off some magic for his new Minnesota team yesterday. With Dobbs traded, the focus of last week for Arizona was whether or not Kyler Murray would start at quarterback for the first time since injuring his knee in Week 14 last year.
Murray did not play — probably a wise decision given the quality of Cleveland's defense and the deficiencies in his own offense.
Philadelphia 28, Dallas 23
In another heart-stopping finish, the Eagles tackled Dallas wide receiver CeeDee Lamb short of the end zone with no time remaining to hold on to the divisional win. The play came on a 3rd-and-26 with just five seconds left when Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott hit Lamb on a deep crossing pattern as the clock ran out. Three Eagles’ defensive backs converged on Lamb and kept him from scoring the game-winning touchdown. (Lamb fumbled and the Eagles recovered, but the game was already over.)
In a penalty-marred battle — both teams committed 10 penalties — Dallas led at intermission 17-14. Touchdown passes from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith (29 yards) and A.J. Brown (four yards) on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter put Philadelphia up, 28-17. Dallas responded in the fourth, as Prescott finished off a 52-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolbert.
Dallas dominated statistically, outgaining Philadelphia 406 yards to 292. Prescott, in particular, enjoyed a very productive game, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns. For the second straight week, Lamb posted monster numbers: 11 catches for 191 yards.
Near the end of the first half, Hurts limped off the field in obvious pain after Micah Parsons sacked the Eagles QB. Hurts seemed OK in the second half and finished an efficient 17-of-23 for 207 yards and the two TD throws. Brown, who caught seven passes for 66 yards, ended his NFL-record streak of games with 125+ receiving yards at six.
With the win, Philadelphia (8-1) gained some separation from Dallas (5-3) in the division and maintained its NFL-best record. Dallas showed some heart in coming back for a near win, especially with skeptics counting on them to follow up last week’s destruction of the Rams at home with a dud on the road.
Las Vegas 30, New York Giants 6
Their collective nostrils flush with that new-coach smell, the Raiders trounced the hapless Giants in Las Vegas.
RB Josh Jacobs led the way early. His running punctuated two first-half Raider touchdowns as Vegas jumped out a 14-0 lead. Jacobs finished the day with 98 yards but 64 of that total came on the Raiders’ first two scoring drives. Rookie Aidan O’Connell, who started in place of struggling Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, was solid if unspectacular, completing 16-of-25 passes for 209 yards.
Despite the lopsided score, the Raiders did not dominate the game: they outgained the Giants 334-277 but had the same number of first downs and actually lost the time of possession.
But the theme of the day turned a potential close game into an ugly rout: turnovers.
With Vegas up 14-0 in the second quarter, Giants QB Tommy DeVito, in place of the injured Daniel Jones, threw INTs on back-to-back possessions. The Raiders turned each into points and went into halftime with an insurmountable 24-0 advantage. Jones went out with a torn ACL in a non-contact injury and is done for the season.
O’Connell, meanwhile, did not throw a TD pass — but he also did not commit a turnover and was not sacked. For Raider faithful who watched Jimmy G repeatedly undercut his team’s chances with fumbles, interceptions and avoidable sacks, those stats means something.
Jones suffered a season-ending ACL injury on the first play of the second quarter. He returned to the lineup against the Raiders after already missing multiple weeks because of a neck injury. So ends a miserable season for Jones, whose struggles were more a function of terrible offensive line play than his own. Yet questions are already circling about the young quarterback’s future with the Giants.
For the Raiders, new interim coach Antonio Pierce, who took for Josh McDaniels this week, gets his first win as a coach. He does so against the team he played on for five seasons, winning a Super Bowl title as a team captian with the Giants after the 2007 season.
Whether Pierce is coaching for a full-time job with the Raiders or merely keeping the seat warm for Jim Harbaugh remains to be seen.
Cincinnati 24, Buffalo 18 (SNF)
The Bengals won their fourth straight game on Sunday night, beating back a late Buffalo charge to land the win. Cincinnati built a 24-10 lead before a fourth-quarter touchdown from Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs, followed by a two-point conversion, cut that lead to six with over three minutes remaining. But on the ensuing possession, Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow hit receiver Tee Higgins for a 32-yard pick-up and the Bengals offense ran out the clock.
The game marked the second terrific effort by a resurgent Burrow, whose puzzling, injury-mired performances before the team’s Week 7 bye are an ever-shrinking speck in the rear-view.
The fourth-year QB threw for 348 yards yards and two TD passes, one each to TE Irv Smith Jr. and receiver Drew Sample, a 22-yard strike before halftime that gave Cincinnati a two-touchdown advantage. Higgins caught eight passes for 110 yards.
Even without a strong running game (54 yards), the Bengals’ offense converted 8-of-15 third downs and line allowed just one sack against a Bills defense that came in second in the NFL in that category.
Speaking of teams without a running game...for yet another week, Josh Allen and the Buffalo passing game was left to fend itself. Allen threw for 258 yards and the one touchdown to Diggs, but the running game generated just 68 yards.
Turnovers also did the Bills in. They committed two, including an Allen INT. Cincinnati did not turn the ball over once.
After a brutal 1-3 start, the surging Bengals (5-3) now find themselves into a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and Cleveland, all three teams 1.5 games behind Baltimore (7-2).
Expect Buffalo’s yo-yo of a 2023 to continue: the Bills' defense is hanging in there despite key injuries, but the team's unreliable running game puts too much on the shoulders of Allen and the passing attack.