Game balls – NFL Week 10

Oh boy, the NFL is still drunk after Week 9’s excesses. The lowly Dolphins did for the Ravens, Washington trumped Tampa Bay, the previously 8-1 Cardinals got a whooping from the Panthers, the Rams lost again and the Seahawks, even with Russell Wilson back, got a big fat zero against the Packers. In short, it was as crazy and unpredictable as last week, which makes the giving out of game balls just as challenging! I’ll do my best…


Offensive player of the week

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Ethan Miller – Getty Images

When I went to bed on Sunday night, I still wasn’t sure who I was going to award this game ball to. With a 45-17 tonking of their divisional rivals the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills had a couple of decent shouts: Josh Allen threw for 366 yards and a couple of TDs, while Stefon Diggs was the league’s top receiver with 162 yards from 8 receptions and a long of 57 yards.

I was also toying with D’Andre Swift, whose 130 yards on the ground were a big factor in the Lions’ 16-16 tie with the Steelers, while a couple of rookie Patriots – Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson – also caught my eye (more on these teams later).     

But by Monday morning, after the all-AFC West clash between the Chiefs and the Raiders in the late Sunday game, my work was done. How could the nod not go to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES? He dominated proceedings with a season-high 406 passing yards and five touchdowns, which also matches his best return in 2021. He chucked the rock 50 times, connecting on 35 of those attempts (70%) and finding the end zone five times: Tyreek Hill claimed two TDs, while Noah Gray, Darrel Williams (on a 35-yard jump ball) and Byron Pringle hauled in the others. He also avoided any interceptions for a second consecutive game.

Mahomes’ efforts helped the Chiefs break through the 21-point mark for the first time in a month and improve to 6-4, finally topping the division. Obviously, KC have been well below par this season but with the usual stars – Mahomes, Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, who had a 100-yard game – all shining, they looked their old selves again on Sunday night. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a short-lived flashback to former glories or whether they’ve genuinely turned a corner but for now, Mahomes and Co. looked like they were back to their best.


Defensive player of the week

Jimmy Ward, S, San Francisco 49ers

Yahoo! Sports

There were just four players with a pair of sacks this week. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward got to Detroit QB Jared Goff twice, Saints DE Marcus Davenport doubled his season’s tally against Tennessee and the Titans’ DT Jeffery Simmons repaid the favour. That’s five sacks in the last two games for Simmons, who seems determined not to lose the Defensive Player of the Year race without a fight.

The other double-sack-monster, Devin White, couldn’t stop the Bucs succumbing to a much-improved Washington Football Team 29-19. The interior linebacker did his best to keep Taylor Heinicke in check, ending the game with two sacks from up-the-gut blitzes – his first takedowns of the 2021 campaign – as well as three tackles for loss and an impressive 13 solo tackles and five assists. His career-high tally of 18 total tackles was four more than anyone else in the league managed this weekend.

But then on Monday night, when the Niners beat the LA Rams 31-10, safety JIMMY WARD intercepted Matt Stafford twice in the first quarter. Just two minutes in and with the game scoreless, Stafford went long looking for his new target, Odell Beckham Jr, with a 50-yard bomb. Alas, OBJ hadn’t continued his route downfield so Ward took the catch on his own 7-yard line unimpeded. The other takeaway came on the Ram’s next possession, when a screen pass on a crucial third-down slipped through the fingers of Rams TE Tyler Higbee. Ward emerged from a scrum of bodies with the ball and took it back 27 yards to the house, eluding a last-gasp tap-tackle from Higbee before somersaulting over the line to extend the 49ers’ lead to 13-0.  

Having gone 1,800 days without an interception, Ward suddenly had two in a 10-minute spell. That matches his team’s total for the season before the game and doubled his career total through 85 NFL games almost instantaneously. Worthy of a game ball, methinks.


Coach of the week

Josh McDaniels, OC, New England Patriots

Joe Sargent – Getty Images

Brian Flores’ Miami got Week 10 off to a bang, humbling the previously 6-2 Baltimore Ravens 22-10 on Thursday Night Football. To hold the AFC North’s top team to under 14 points for the first time in 53 outings was an impressive feat and Flores deserves some recognition for getting 60 minutes of complementary football out of his underperforming Dolphins.

We shouldn’t let the Niners’ 21-point win over the previously 7-2 LA Rams on MNF fly under the radar. Kyle Shanahan’s side really needed a boost against their divisional (and inter-state) rivals after losing to another NFC West team, the Cardinals, last week, and they showed more urgency and energy to end their winless home game drought. They leant heavily on the ground game (nearly three-quarters of their first-half snaps were runs) and dominated possession by nearly 20 minutes, while Deebo Samuels (133 total yards and 2 TDs) edged to within 21 receiving yards of the 1,000 mark for the season, behind only Cooper Kupp. In short, the LA debuts for OBJ and Von Miller were rendered immaterial.

I’d also like to tip my hat in the general direction of Ron Rivera, whose Washington Football Team beat the strongly-favoured Buccaneers by 10 points. For arguably the first time this season, their much-touted defence came out to play, intercepting Tom Brady twice in the first quarter (that hasn’t happened since 2012) while Taylor Heinicke was efficient and Antonio Gibson ran in a pair of TDs. I don’t think anyone is expecting the 3-6 Football Team to maraud their way up the standings and into the playoffs but it just goes to show that anything’s possible on Any Given Sunday.

And with that in mind, who expected Cleveland, a week after humbling the Bengals, to be absolutely annihilated by the New England Patriots? I doubt even our very own Kieran (or any other die-hard Pats fan, for that matter) would have predicted their team to stick 45 unanswered points on the Browns after conceding the opening TD.

So plaudits go to Bill Belichick for masterminding the whole operation, and a game ball to Offensive Coordinator JOSH McDANIELS, who definitely had the number of his opposing coach, Browns DC Joe Wood, with a six-touchdown, 45-7 victory. The aforementioned Mac Jones (198 yards, 3 TDs) had the best game of his fledgling career so far, setting a new high in completion percentage (19 of 23, 82.6%) and becoming the first rookie QB in the franchise’s illustrious history to throw three passing touchdowns and no interceptions.

But it wasn’t a one-man show by any means. With the help of a solid O-line, another 2021 draft pick, Rhamondre Stevenson, dominated on the ground, with 100 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns, even though he’d only just cleared concussion protocol. In addition, Kendrick Bourne (141 scrimmage yards and a TD) and Brandon Bolden (70 total yards) were far from bystanders, Hunter Henry bagged his sixth and seventh TDs of the year, two more than any other tight end in the league, and Jakobi Meyers got his first career score, ending the streak behind the trivia question “Who has the most career receiving yards (1,522) without a TD reception in NFL history?” Heck, even Brian Hoyer outperformed both Baker Mayfield (73 yards) and Case Keenum (81), connecting on all three of his attempts for 85 yards and a TD.  

Sure, the D played their part too, with five sacks, allowing Cleveland just 217 yards of total offence and restricting them to just one successful first down all night. And even Nick Folk was perfect on all seven of his kicks (1 FG, six XPs). But I’d say the win was built on the back of an offensive masterclass by McDaniels. The Pats are on an impressive four-game winning streak and sit alongside the Bills at the top of the AFC East with six wins apiece. The race for the title is most definitely on.


Play of the week

Robert Hunt, G, Miami Dolphins

USA TODAY FTW

Think about what you love to see in a play of the week and the chances are, there was a contender in Week 10.

How about a QB scoring two touchdowns – a run and a pass – with his first two snaps of the season, and drawing a penalty for his “I’m back!” celebration? Maybe not Cardinals fans, but I suspect the rest of us enjoyed seeing Cam Newton back doing Cam Newton things for the Carolina Panthers after sitting out half the season as an unsigned free agent.

Do we all love a neatly executed trick play? The Chiefs served up a nice one at the start of the fourth quarter against the Raiders. Punter Tommy Townsend faked a punt on a 4th-and-7, then threw a pass to Byron Pringle near the sideline for the first down. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised: Andy Reid has pulled this one of his bag of tricks before, having deployed the exact same move against the Jets in Week 8 last year. The target was Pringle then too and again, the chains were moved. So I guess we can expect to see this again around Week 9 next year…

I’m sure we all love a juggling, one-handed interception and one of the three INTs that Dallas secured in thrashing Atlanta 43-3 was precisely that. With the result already beyond doubt at 36-3, Matt Ryan looked to the right on a 3rd-and-6, in search of Olamide Zaccheaus. Cornerback Anthony Brown stepped up into the space and a game of volleyball ensued. Brown finally grabbed the ball with his right hand and secured possession for the Cowboys.

I bet we all love a turnover that leads to a score by the defence, and we were treated to an entertaining fumble recovery TD by DB Darius Slay in the Eagles’ 30-13 win over the Broncos. Late in the third quarter, Denver were looking to get on level terms but Melvin Gordon coughed up the ball on the edge of the red zone. Slay came away with it, tried to turn and run but fumbled it himself, so had to go back and pick it up. He ran right, then pirouetted and headed left, putting on the afterburners to race through the entire Denver team for a spectacular 82-yard score.

And what else do we all love? A big man TD, that’s what. And even though it didn’t count, I’m still going to give this week’s accolade to ROBERT HUNT for a quite fantastic effort in Miami’s shock 22-10 win over the Ravens on Thursday night.

On a fourth-quarter 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard-line, an under-pressure Tua Tagovailoa tried to lob a screen pass to Myles Gaskin. Fearing an interception by the lurking Calais Campbell, Hunt snagged the ball, cut inside and charged towards the end zone. The Dolphins guard was flipped over by two converging defenders but desperately reached out for the line, breaking the plane before hitting the deck upside down and dropping the ball. Of course, Hunt’s TD run drew a penalty because he wasn’t an eligible receiver, but his actions probably prevented a turnover.

“I was just trying to win,” the interior lineman said afterwards, “just trying to get in the end zone. I ain’t gonna lie, I’m kind of embarrassed. The guys just laughed at me, like, ‘It doesn’t count, man.’ But I also got a couple who said it was the best play they’d seen all night.”

Fox commentator Troy Aikman went even further, calling it “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen”. And while that’s clearly hyperbole, sometimes you just want to see a 6’6”, 320-pound lineman running at full tilt and going airborne for a TD. So, even though it didn’t officially count, I don’t care. Awarding Hunt a game ball for play of the week seems the least we can do.


Gaffe of the week

Overtime in the Lions v Steelers game

Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports

Mmmm, do I mention bad officiating again? I won’t dwell on it but there were a fair few calls during Week 10 that left us scratching our heads. The soft ‘roughing the passer’ call on Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, for example, erased a Saints interception.

And of course, we must reference Seattle’s DK Metcalf, who let his frustration boil over in Green Bay. The third-year wideout got into a scuffle with two Packers players and was ejected with 1:23 left. Following the game, in which Metcalf was held to a season-low 26 yards from three receptions, he told reporters that his frustration stemmed from being “tired of losing”. Wow, he should try playing for the Detroit Lions…

That leads me nicely on to our winner which, for the second week in a row, is a particular game. This time, we’re giving the game ball for gaffe(s) of the week to the mistake-filled OVERTIME PERIOD IN DETRIOT vs PITTSBURGH which, as we all know, ended in the first tie of the season. It was an ugly game with an unsatisfactory finish and because it went into OT, many telly-watching fans around the US probably endured the end of this four-hour marathon of misery once their respective games finished.

With Big Ben, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool all missing, it was up to stand-in QB Mason Rudolph and a bunch of backup receivers to see off the winless Lions, yet they could do no better than hang on for a share of the spoils. Pittsburgh handed the ball over three times (twice in OT) and didn’t get a takeaway themselves, so it was hardly a textbook display.

The errors kept coming throughout overtime. Diontae Johnson was guilty of a fumble after a 39-yard run-after-catch. On the very next play, a defensive holding call wiped out a Minkah Fitzpatrick INT. Then Kendrick Green launched a snap over Rudolph’s head for a 12-yard loss. Finally, TE Pat Freiermuth, the two-TD hero from last week, was hoping to set up a game-winning field goal attempt with 10 seconds left, but he also fumbled. Detroit recovered but they didn’t have time to do anything with it.

For Detroit, despite their best result of the season (ie, not losing), it was far from perfect either. Jared Goff threw for only 54 yards in regulation time and got sacked four times, while poor old Ryan Santoso – filling in for Austin Seibert – muffed a critical extra point earlier in the game, then fell well short on a FG from (only) 48 yards with 4 minutes of OT remaining. If either of those kicks had split the pylons, every team in the NFL would have at least one W on the board. But as it is, a winless season is still a possibility for the Lions.

It was game that neither team deserved to win, and neither did. Compounding the sense of confusion and chaos, the Lions’ Godwin Igwebuike admitted to not knowing the overtime rules, while the Steelers’ rookie RB Najee Harris told reporters that he didn’t even know you could draw a game in the NFL!

Insert ‘face palm’ emoji. Hand over game ball. Walk away and agree never to speak of this again.


Feature image: Ron Chenoy – USA TODAY Sports

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