For a few seconds, Sean McVay stood and stared while the helplessness of the situation started to sink in. There was nothing he could do, no challenge flag he could throw.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett had just tried to seal a victory against McVay’s Rams but appeared to come up inches short on a fourth-and-1 with 2:12 left. The ruling on the field, though: First down, Pittsburgh.
McVay would’ve challenged — and the call likely would’ve been overturned — but he had no timeouts left. And because that play happened just before the two-minute warning, the booth couldn’t review it on its own.
The seconds melted away, and with them, any chance the Rams had left.
McVay steamed silently.
Steelers 24, Rams 17.
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In Denver, the Packers continued to learn what life is like without an elite quarterback. A 19-17 loss left them at 2-4 on the season, the franchise’s worst start since Aaron Rodgers’ predecessor, Brett Favre, was the QB.
In Tampa, the Falcons squeezed by the Bucs, 16-13, on a last-second field goal. At this point, Atlanta feels like the team to beat in the eminently winnable NFC South. Any time you can pile up 156 yards on the ground without much from Bijan Robinson (“He wasn’t feeling like himself,” coach Arthur Smith said postgame), that’s encouraging. Robinson had just one carry for three yards.
In Indianapolis, the Browns escaped, thanks to an all-world day from Myles Garrett (two strip-sacks and a blocked field goal) and some dubious officiating late. A thrilling game between two backup quarterbacks featured eight lead changes and was decided in the closing seconds, after officials flagged the Colts for pass interference in the end zone on an overthrow from Browns QB P.J. Walker.
Kareem Hunt then scored from a yard out on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give Cleveland the 39-38 win.
Walker had entered the game after Deshaun Watson left in the first quarter. Watson cleared the concussion protocol, but Browns coach Kevin Stefanski kept him out in an effort to “protect the franchise quarterback.” He vowed that Watson would start next week in Seattle.
Here’s what else we learned from the afternoon slate of Week 7:
Put the Ravens in the Super Bowl conversation
After the Ravens’ 38-6 dismantling of the red-hot Lions — a team that had won four in a row and 13 of their last 16 entering Sunday — Baltimore coach John Harbaugh divulged that after every victory, his father, Jack, texts him a short, simple message:
“That was your best win ever.”
The reason Harbaugh brought this up: He was asked if Sunday was the best performance of Lamar Jackson’s six-year career.
“So, I’d say that was his best game ever,” a smiling John Harbaugh confirmed.
Patience makes perfect for Lamar Jackson 🙌
— NFL (@NFL) October 22, 2023
Hard to argue. Jackson was nearly perfect, and the Lions’ top-10 defense didn’t have an answer. The MVP candidate finished 21-for-27 for 357 passing yards and four total scores (three passing, one rushing), and he led touchdown drives on each of the Ravens’ first four possessions. By that point, it was 28-0 and the rout was on.
Todd Monken, the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator, had his unit rolling. Baltimore finished with 10 plays that went for 20 yards or more, and its offense did what it wanted, when it wanted — and the Lions were left humbled and humiliated.
“It kind of creates a vision for what we can be,” Harbaugh said.
“That’s what we expected,” Jackson added.
“Today was lights out, all three phases,” tight end Mark Andrews said.
When you look across the NFL landscape, this win ranks right up there with the most impressive by any team this season — next to the Bills’ 48-20 domination of the Dolphins in Week 4 and the 49ers’ 42-10 beatdown of the Cowboys in Week 5.
With its recent play, Detroit (5-2) had earned the right to be called an NFC contender. Then the Lions traveled to Baltimore, where the Ravens (5-2) whupped them from start to finish.
“You don’t want these to happen, but when it does, it recenters you, it refocuses you, and that’s all I know,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said.
Jackson bolstered his MVP candidacy — he won the award in 2019, his first full season as the starter — and the Ravens further solidified themselves as an elite team in the AFC. Baltimore is now 50-18 in the regular season with Jackson under center and, this season, has outscored opponents 55-6 in the first quarter this season.
Bills continue to confound
One week, they can’t beat a backup quarterback.
The next, they look like Super Bowl favorites.
More than a month and a half into the season, who, exactly, are the Buffalo Bills?
The most confounding team in football, for starters. No team this season has experienced higher highs — the aforementioned 28-point win against the Dolphins — mixed with more disappointing lows. Two of the Bills’ losses simply don’t make sense: an opening-night defeat to Zach Wilson and the Jets, and Sunday’s 29-25 loss to a Patriots team that entered the game 1-5.
Legitimate Super Bowl contenders shouldn’t be losing those, not to a Jets team without Aaron Rodgers or this version of the Patriots.
And last week’s 14-9 victory against the Giants — who were playing with a backup quarterback — wasn’t all that encouraging, either.
“I wish I could tell you …” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said Sunday after the loss, when asked about his offense’s slow starts.
Patriots QB Mac Jones offers belief with game-winning drive in enormous upset of Bills
Down 22-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Bills (4-3) scored 15 straight to take the lead, but Mac Jones led the Patriots on an eight-play, 69-yard drive that he capped with a game-winning touchdown throw to tight end Mike Gesicki. It cemented Bill Belichick’s 300th career win, something only two other coaches in history (Don Shula and George Halas) have accomplished.
Certainly, the injuries the Bills have suffered on defense (Tre’Davious White, Matt Milano, Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones) are showing. But coordinator Ken Dorsey’s offense hasn’t looked in sync for three weeks running, and Josh Allen continues to take chances he shouldn’t. A playoff rematch in two weeks against the Bengals should offer the latest lens into who the Bills really are.
Are the Steelers turning things around?
For a team under heavy criticism this season — it’s likely that offensive coordinator Matt Canada remains the least popular man in Pittsburgh — the Steelers have to like where they’re at: 4-2 and a half-game behind the Ravens in the AFC North.
All Sunday’s 24-17 win against the Rams required was a 14-point fourth quarter, plus that aforementioned generous spot on Pickett’s fourth-down keeper. The offense found life late, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the final period — the first time since Week 3 that Pittsburgh has scored more than one offensive touchdown in the same game.
The victories haven’t been convincing, but the Steelers have found a way to win four of their last five after an awful opener (a 30-6 loss to the 49ers) and with another ugly one (a 30-6 loss to the Texans) sandwiched in between.
“I appreciate the fight the guys displayed, they got a don’t-blink mentality,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
TRENT JORDAN WATT WITH THE INT 🙌
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 22, 2023
It certainly helps when T.J. Watt is doing T.J. Watt things. The former Defensive Player of the Year dropped into coverage on the Rams’ first snap of the second half, then stepped in front of Cooper Kupp to pick off a Matthew Stafford pass. Watt returned it all the way to the L.A. 7-yard line. A few plays later, a Pickett rushing score gave Pittsburgh the lead.
“I was just doing my job, there wasn’t too much into it,” Watt said. “I was just QB peeking and looking at the football, and it came my way.”
With the loss, the Rams fell to 3-4.
New era, rough results in Green Bay
Boy, does Week 1 feel a long way off for the Packers.
Love’s struggled, both with his accuracy and ability to see the field, and it’s costing his team. Sunday’s 19-17 loss to the Broncos dropped the Packers to 2-4, the team’s worst start since 2006, Favre’s second-to-last season in Green Bay.
The Packers have failed to score more than 20 points in each of their past four games. Sunday in Denver, against the Broncos’ No. 32-ranked defense — a unit that’s been torched all season — Green Bay couldn’t even find a way to score in the first half. Across their last four first halves, the Packers have a grand total of six points.
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Love did lead a second-half rally, thanks in part to a touchdown throw that ricocheted off Romeo Doubs’ hands and into Jayden’s Reed’s arms, but it wasn’t enough. On second-and-20 with 1:56 left and the Packers down two, Love threw behind wideout Christian Watson. On the next play, his 42-yard, ill-advised heave was intercepted. Denver ran out the clock for its second win of the year.
Not exactly the type of performance Green Bay wanted coming off a bye.
“(We) keep digging ourselves a hole,” Packers coach Matt LeFleur lamented.
Later, asked how much progress he felt the team had made offensively during its off week, LeFleur’s response was telling.
NFL Week 7 takeaways: Ravens look like real contenders; Chiefs’ D swarms Chargers
Don’t expect Davante Adams’ frustrations to ease, not after the Raiders stumbled to 3-4 with an embarrassing 30-12 loss to the Bears.
Adams’ comments this week about wanting more targets must have caught Josh McDaniels’ attention, however, because Las Vegas opened the game with three consecutive throws to their All-Pro receiver. Adams had seven targets by the time the first quarter was over.
But it didn’t make much of a difference in the end.
Adams finished with seven catches for 57 yards. Chicago (2-5) won going away.
Stepping in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer wasn’t the answer — the veteran backup finished 17-for-32 for 129 yards and two interceptions (Adams’ drop on a Hoyer throw in the end zone didn’t help). Hoyer wasn’t just outplayed by Bears’ undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent, he was pulled late for rookie Aidan O’Connell, who threw for the Raiders’ only touchdown of the day.
Even with talent like Adams, running back Josh Jacobs and defensive end Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas feels like a team going nowhere. Its record is belied by the fact that it doesn’t have a quality win yet (so far, the Raiders have topped the Broncos, Packers and Patriots), and the offense still hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game. (The 21 the Raiders scored last week against the Patriots was aided by a defensive safety.)
Las Vegas is now 9-14 since McDaniels took over and ranks third from the bottom in total offense. It’s hard to find any reasons why the arrow is pointing up.
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(Top photo: Billie Weiss / Getty Images)