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As Patrick Mahomes rescued the Chiefs, the Jets’ defense contained the Bills to give every AFC team at least two losses. The NFC’s expected heavy hitters continue to battle myriad issues, but Tom Brady managed a game-winning drive to stop the Bucs’ skid. Here are the grades from Kansas City, Tampa, and the rest of the NFL’s Week 9 slate.
1 of 26
Ravens’ summer Justin Houston reunion proves pivotal
Vincent Carchietta/USA Today Images
Houston sat in free agency for nearly three months. The Ravens placed the seldom-used UFA tender on the 12th-year veteran and circled back to him in July. Relatively off the radar since his four-Pro Bowl run ended in 2015, Houston is on a midseason tear in Year 2 as a Raven. Pressuring Andy Dalton off the left and right edges, Houston dropped his 2011 draft classmate 2.5 times and intercepted him to set up a game-locking Ravens touchdown. The first Raven with three straight multi-sack games, Houston has 6.5 since Week 7. He has largely shaken the knee trouble that plagued his final Kansas City years and is a vital piece for a Ravens team (6-3) that, with Roquan Smith in the fold, enters the season’s second half with considerable defensive firepower.
RAVENS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Nov. 20)
2 of 26
Injuries on verge of knocking out Saints
Stephen Lew/USA Today Images
Quarterback issues notwithstanding, a full-strength (or close to it) Saints team might be alone atop the mediocre NFC South. But injuries are crushing Dennis Allen’s first New Orleans outfit. A Saints squad already down Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Jarvis Landry and rookie left tackle Trevor Penning saw emerging linebacker Pete Werner, veteran center Erik McCoy and longtime Cam Jordan sidekick Marcus Davenport leave Monday night’s game. While the skill-position-strapped Ravens likely want no part of injury excuses, the Saints’ issues are preventing a veteran-fueled roster from taking advantage of a struggling division. Instead, New Orleans (3-6) is slinking toward its first 10-loss season since 2005.
SAINTS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
3 of 26
Titans defense nearly completes shorthanded heist
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK
As the Chiefs clamped down on the Titans’ limited Malik Willis-conducted offense, Tennessee’s defense picked up the slack and nearly pulled off a shocking upset. Throughout the third and fourth quarters and overtime, the Titans (5-3) totaled 27 yards. Despite that anemic output and a play disparity that saw the Chiefs log nearly 50 more offensive snaps, the Titans controlled the line of scrimmage and held the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense to 17 regulation points. Denico Autry sacked Patrick Mahomes twice, and journeyman Mario Edwards won key matchups with Orlando Brown Jr. It is hard not to think the Titans, who became the first 14-point underdog to force overtime in nine years, would not have prevailed with Ryan Tannehill.
TITANS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Broncos (Sun.)
4 of 26
Patrick Mahomes pulls off rescue act
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
In the kind of performance that could sway the MVP race and/or the AFC’s home-field advantage pursuit, Mahomes carried the Chiefs in a surprisingly difficult spot. After Nick Bolton stonewalled Dontrell Hilliard — when the Titans did the Chiefs a favor by not running Derrick Henry to set up a field goal that could have created a two-score lead — on a third-down screen, Mahomes’ 93-yard drive showcased his full toolbox. The sixth-year passer’s third-and-17 scramble highlighted a career-best 63-yard rushing night, and per NFL.com, this was the first post-merger instance of a 400/60 QB double. The Titans caused problems for the Chiefs, but Mahomes’ underappreciated scrambling talent bailed out the favorites.
CHIEFS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
5 of 26
Embarrassing collapse reveals champion out of answers
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
The Rams have never finished outside the top 11 in total offense under Sean McVay, who began his Los Angeles career by turning the league’s worst pass offense into the No. 1 scoring attack. McVay’s sixth Rams team (3-5) ranks 31st offensively, and its Cooper Kupp-and-nothing-else routine persisted in Tampa. Worse, obviously, was the defending champs following a bend-but-don’t-break clinic on the Buccaneers’ penultimate drive with a passive final minute. L.A. allowed an underperforming Tampa Bay offense to do whatever it wanted on that 60-yard march — one that may well close the book on the Rams’ playoff hopes. Considering their contractual and draft-capital situations, the Rams submitting a 2022 dud is alarming for the franchise’s future.
RAMS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
6 of 26
Bucs capitalize in underwhelming big-stage outing
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Credit Tom Brady for seizing an opportunity. No player has excelled on this front like the Buccaneers’ quarterback. In allowing Cade Otton to streak up the seam for 28 yards and letting three subsequent Bucs targets move out of bounds, the Rams may have shaken up the NFC South race. The Bucs (4-5) are the division’s best team, but they are playing poorly. Brady (4.8 yards per attempt) offered little before that final drive, with his Mike Evans and Chris Godwin connections well off their previous paces. Whereas the Rams’ situation appears unsalvageable, the Bucs — thanks largely to a historically bad division — are still in position to reawaken and matter. Their offense still needs a lot of work. Can its final-minute sojourn be a catalyst?
BUCCANEERS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun., in Germany)
7 of 26
Jets ground attack subdues Bills
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into Week 9 fourth against the run, the Bills (6-2) could not deter a Jets team that continues to hide a former No. 2 overall draft pick. Buffalo did not cause the Zach Wilson scramble chaos New England did and bent consistently against New York’s rushing attack. Despite missing Breece Hall, the Jets gained 174 yards on the ground. This outing was reminiscent of some previous Bills teams during the franchise’s resurgence. Sean McDermott’s Buffalo past has featured some leaky run defenses, and while Jordan Poyer’s absence wounded the team, the Chiefs gained ground on the Bills in the home-field advantage race because of a largely one-dimensional Jets offense.
BILLS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
8 of 26
Sauce Gardner, revamped Jets secondary passes top test
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
In what is probably this franchise’s biggest win since “Can’t wait,” the Jets secondary showed off its batch of snazzy investments. The additions of Gardner, D.J. Reed and Jordan Whitehead have rounded out a transformation. Robert Saleh’s 2021 defense ranked last in both points and yards; Gardner has helped bury that effort. The No. 4 overall pick intercepted a pass to set up a go-ahead Jets score, made a team-high seven tackles and won his fourth-down matchup with Gabe Davis to seal Gang Green’s upset win. Gardner leads the NFL with 13 pass breakups. He and Reed represent a staggering upgrade on what the Jets previously had at corner. Wilson still limits the Jets, but their defense is for real. This, unfortunately, may justify the team keeping its green pants in storage.
JETS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Patriots (Nov. 20)
9 of 26
Tua Tagovailoa wins another shootout
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
The Dolphins’ defense encountered more trouble against a rebuilding NFC North team, but Miami’s quarterback kept answering the bell. Tagovailoa may never match 2020 classmates Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert, tools-wise, but he has rebounded successfully from this season’s defining injury. The Dolphins (6-3) are now 6-0 in games Tua has finished, and the oft-maligned southpaw has thrown seven touchdown passes, and no picks since returning from his concussion. He kept finding Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in Chicago. The two burners combined for 228 yards — down from the Detroit shootout (294) — and are meshing marvelously with a quarterback that is barely a year removed from the Deshaun Watson trade drama.
DOLPHINS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Browns (Sun.)
10 of 26
Justin Fields’ emergence overshadowing losses
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears (3-6) sold off Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, illustrating the front office’s (correct) view of this year’s team. While Chicago’s defense predictably could not slow Hill and Waddle, Fields cranked up his breakout. His 178 rushing yards are the most by a quarterback in a regular-season game in NFL history, topping Michael Vick’s 2002 OT walk-off in Minnesota (173). Fields only topped 100 rushing yards in a game at Ohio State twice, maxing out at 104. Since the Bears’ upset win in New England unleashed the 2021 first-round pick as a runner, Luke Getsy’s offense has awakened. Fields still needs more passing-game refinement and receiving help, but the new Bears regime will not be looking for another QB in 2023.
BEARS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)
11 of 26
Packers’ Aaron Rodgers-era refrain playing again
MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK
Reports have now connected the Packers to offering a second-rounder and change for Chase Claypool, being willing to deal a first for D.J. Moore and pursuing Darren Waller. These dispatches came before the team’s historically efficient quarterback threw two red zone INTs for the first time. Rodgers added a third goal-line INT to further highlight this Defcon 1 situation. Green Bay’s pass catchers are either not ready, not healthy, or just not talented enough. Despite a healthier O-line compared to 2021’s 13-4 team, the Packers (3-6) are a mess. Team president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst made Rodgers the NFL’s only $50 million-per-year player and gave him an aerial crew most knew was insufficient. The Packers’ “one Super Bowl with Rodgers” chorus is blaring loudly again.
PACKERS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)
12 of 26
Rookie CB aids beleaguered Lions defense
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Despite holding the Packers to nine points, the Lions’ defense still ranks last in scoring. The unit’s Sunday effort made that a back-burner issue. Detroit (2-6) received a game-turning effort from cornerback Kerby Joseph, a third-round pick out of Illinois who moved into the starting lineup in October. Joseph intercepted Rodgers twice — the second coming when he stepped in front of Robert Tonyan on a third-quarter pass — and broke up a near-TD bomb near the goal line as well in the second half. The Lions, who saw their first 2022 draft pick (Aidan Hutchinson) corral the other Rodgers goal-line INT, exacted some revenge on their chief 21st-century tormentor.
LIONS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
13 of 26
Raiders’ Josh McDaniels plan on shaky ground
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
At 2-6, the Raiders are not an AFC playoff threat. This is a problem for a team that inched to a postseason slot despite Jon Gruden’s midseason exit. The Raiders went from a shutout loss in New Orleans to blowing a 17-0 lead in Jacksonville. Las Vegas is now the third team this century to blow a 17-point lead three times in one season (following the 2003 Falcons and 2020 Chargers, per The Athletic). All of Davante Adams’ 146 yards came before halftime, and the Raiders defense — barreling toward finishing outside the top 16 in scoring for a 20th straight season — could not prevent Trevor Lawrence from a bounce-back effort. Mark Davis’ New England West plan, like other New England (insert location) offerings, is going much worse than expected.
RAIDERS GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)
14 of 26
Jaguars’ Clemson duo drives comeback
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK
Previously 0-6 in one-score games, Doug Pederson’s first Jaguars iteration broke through thanks to quality second-half defense and the franchise’s Clemson-produced cornerstones. Lawrence, whose erratic play led to the team’s close-game shortcomings and invited some big-picture concern, was masterful in leading the second-biggest comeback in franchise history. Lawrence’s 25-for-31 day with 288 total yards produced a positive EPA on 74.2% of his dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats — the highest for a QB in over a year. Travis Etienne is fully back from his rookie-year-nullifying Lisfranc injury; the ex-Lawrence college sidekick ripped off his third straight 100-yard rushing day. This could be a nice building-block game for a young Jags squad.
JAGUARS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
15 of 26
Uchenna Nwosu rewarding Seahawks’ free agency faith
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
After moving on from most of their 2021 pass-rushing troops — including sack leader Carlos Dunlap — the Seahawks added Nwosu on a two-year, $19 million deal. This middle-class contract is one of many nice bets the Seahawks (6-3) made this year. Nwosu dropped Kyler Murray twice, giving him seven sacks this season. The one-year Chargers starter’s previous season-high: five. Joey Bosa’s ex-wingman broke inside on stunts for both his sacks. The Seahawks downed Murray five times, with newcomers Shelby Harris and (sort of) Bruce Irvin aiding Nwosu. Seattle’s defense has turned a corner over the past month, giving Geno Smith and Co. some support that will be vital as the team aims to fend off the 49ers.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Buccaneers (Sun., in Germany)
16 of 26
As mistakes mount, can Cardinals consider change?
Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK
Sunday showcased some of the Cardinals’ talent. Zaven Collins’ pick-six, Murray’s 60 rushing yards, and the team’s eight QB hits created a path to victory. Mistakes, per usual, closed it. The Cardinals (3-6) dropped two red zone interceptions, and on each subsequent play, Smith fired touchdown passes. Protection issues and a Murray open-field fumble headlined Arizona’s other miscues in a game the team had to have to stay afloat in the NFC West. The Cards strangely gave Kliff Kingsbury an extension that runs through 2027. Ditto GM Steve Keim. Bailing on four years of a contract is not commonplace, but if Kingsbury’s playoff follow-up stays on this course, Michael Bidwill will have a decision to make.
CARDINALS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
17 of 26
Harrison Smith helping Vikings craft end-game routine
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Narrowly missing the 2010s All-Decade team, Smith is still making a difference for Vikings teams into his 30s. The 11th-year safety’s fourth-quarter interception of Taylor Heinicke — a midfield snag he returned 35 yards — set up a short Minnesota game-tying drive. The Vikings (7-1) have reached this unexpected perch thanks to six consecutive one-score wins, and Smith has intercepted a pass in three straight games. By far the longest-tenured Viking, the 33-year-old defender has four INTs this season and is pushing for a seventh Pro Bowl. The Vikes’ schedule heats up in the coming weeks, but they have the NFL’s biggest division lead (3.5 games, plus a Packers tiebreaker).
VIKINGS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)
18 of 26
Fourth-quarter penalties impede Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
His hands full in a frequent matchup with Justin Jefferson, Benjamin St-Juste’s hand-fighting with the Vikings Pro Bowl wideout negated his fourth-quarter pick-six. Had St-Juste’s 38-yard dash stood, the Vikings’ run of close-game conquests might have ceased. Defensive lineman John Ridgeway’s unnecessary roughness infraction also led Minnesota to take its go-ahead field goal off the board and drain the clock ahead of a walk-off kick. These whistles, along with Heinicke’s final-stanza mistake, interfered with an otherwise-solid Washington effort. The Commanders (4-5) are still in the wild-card hunt, but their division complicates this longer-odds quest.
COMMANDERS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Eagles (Mon.)
19 of 26
Chargers’ top WR sub buoys reeling position group
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Injuries and close losses have been the Chargers’ M.O. basically since their LaDainian Tomlinson-fronted nucleus splintered in the early 2010s, but they have kept this injury-plagued season going thanks to some escapes. A missed field goal in Cleveland; a muffed punt against the Broncos; a Falcons D-lineman losing control of a fumble recovery. But the Bolts (5-3) received some nice contributions from Josh Palmer, who is playing the WR1 role with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen out. Although the former third-rounder dropped a pass that caromed to an intercepting Falcon, he hauled in eight Justin Herbert throws for 106 yards. The last of which — a 22-yarder following the Falcons’ gaffe — set up a game-winning field goal. Survive and advance.
CHARGERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)
20 of 26
Strange fumble sequences sink Falcons
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
Seeing Cordarrelle Patterson deliver immediate returns in his first game back from injury (two TDs), the Falcons rushed for 201 yards. Atlanta (4-5) has used that formula to vanquish teams during this surprising season. With their first over-.500 record in five years in sight, the Falcons saw two fumbles interfere. Khalil Mack yanked the ball from Drake London’s arms during a red zone march, and defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham dropped the ball shortly after recovering an Austin Ekeler fumble. The strange second sequence led to Cameron Dicker’s game-winner. This dead-money-enflamed roster was not supposed to contend in 2022, but the well-coached team — one jousting with a more talented Buccaneers outfit — may look back at this game as a major what-if.
FALCONS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Panthers (Thu.)
21 of 26
Panthers better be right on core players
Albert Cesare-The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
The Rams’ two-first-rounder offer for Brian Burns is now well-documented. Burns is a borderline “one of these things is not like the other” candidate when compared to the likes of Khalil Mack, Jalen Ramsey and Jamal Adams — All-Pro defenders who fetched two firsts in recent years — while Carolina also rebuffed first-round overtures involving D.J. Moore. This raises the stakes for Matt Rhule’s handpicked GM (Scott Fitterer). P.J. Walker’s rough outing — 3-for-10, nine yards, two INTs — summoned Baker Mayfield, continuing a years-long carousel. This amplifies the Panthers’ need to hit on their 2023 QB investment. The franchise that has misfired on each since drafting Cam Newton also has, by rejecting the Rams’ proposal, since raised Burns’ extension price.
PANTHERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Thu.)
22 of 26
Revel accordingly, Joe Mixon fantasy GMs
Sam Greene-The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
The Bengals had more first-half points (35) than the Panthers had yards (32); Mixon outgained Carolina in the first half by more than 100 yards. Only a handful of players have scored five touchdowns in a game; Mixon fell just shy of the four-man six-TD club (Ernie Nevers, Dub Jones, Gale Sayers, Alvin Kamara) in a performance that moved the Bengals (5-4) past their Halloween no-show. Mixon’s career-high 211 scrimmage yards also show the value in reinvesting in the right running back — a taboo subject for certain teams and cap-obsessed folk. Mixon is rewarding the Bengals on 2020s $12 million-per-year accord, joining the likes of Kamara, Dalvin Cook, and Aaron Jones as solid second-contract performers.
BENGALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Steelers (Nov. 20)
23 of 26
Colts freefall remains stunning
Kris Craig / USA TODAY NETWORK
Indianapolis (3-5-1) finished 0-for-14 on third downs, which should probably start the clock on Nick Foles’ inevitable Colts starter debut. The Patriots’ defense overwhelmed Sam Ehlinger, who has not shown much to justify the Colts’ hope he would start the rest of the season. This is tracking toward being one of the most notable implosions in recent NFL history. The Colts sent a league-high seven players to the Pro Bowl last season and had navigated their unusual QB circumstances — brought on by Andrew Luck’s retirement — fairly well heading into 2022. This season’s Matt Ryan and Ehlinger route, compounded by poor play elsewhere, should induce panic about the trajectory of one of the league’s top talent cores.
COLTS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Raiders (Sun.)
24 of 26
Matt Judon gunning for sack title
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire
The Colts’ three-Pro Bowler O-line did not handle the Patriots’ pass rush well, putting it mildly. The Pats (5-4) ripped off nine sacks — their most since September 2015 –, and Judon (11.5, one shy of his career-high) now has three more sacks than anyone else. Darting inside for two of his three Sunday, the red-sleeved edge menace finished off his hat trick by rampaging (unblocked) off the edge on a Colts red zone third down. While Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith have failed to justify the Pats’ 2021 free agency splurge, Judon has delivered to the point his $13.6M-per-year salary (25th among edge rushers) is robbery. The ex-Raven has led the charge in helping a Pats team compensate for a recent run of unimpressive offense.
PATRIOTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Jets (Nov. 20)
25 of 26
Eagles may need to reinvest in Javon Hargrave
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Formerly a grunt worker alongside Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt in Pittsburgh, Hargrave has shone in Philly. The talented interior pass rusher is coming on at the midseason point in his contract year, having totaled five sacks over his past two games. Hargrave bewildered first-round guard Kenyon Green to help the Eagles overcome a slow start. The Eagles (8-0) have Hargrave and Fletcher Cox on expiring contracts. Playing his age-29 season, Hargrave — who made his first Pro Bowl last season — is putting himself in a position to command a lucrative third contract. Without Jordan Davis for a while, the Eagles can still rely on veterans anchoring their deep D-line.
EAGLES GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Commanders (Mon.)
26 of 26
Texans veterans resigned to playing out string
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Brandin Cooks mini-saga comes as the Texans hold the NFL’s worst record (1-6-1). They were never expected to contend. Yet the trade deadline has come and gone without a Houston seller move. In addition to Cooks, who looks to have changed his tune since signing a two-year deal worth $39M in April, Houston rosters capable vets like Jerry Hughes, Maliek Collins, Desmond King, Christian Kirksey, Steven Nelson and others. There are numerous vets on this team that will not be part of competitive Texans squads down the road, yet GM Nick Caserio — who reportedly sought second- and fourth-rounders for the newly expensive Cooks — stood pat. After making multiple moves for draft capital last year, it is surprising the Texans did not do the same at last week’s deadline.
TEXANS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)