After winning consecutive games for the first time in four years last week, the Browns season came crashing back to earth on Sunday with a Texas-sized reality check in Houston.
The Texans rolled to a 29-13 win in a game where the Browns rookie class finally struggled. Since the firing of Hue Jackson at the end of October, the rookies had been on fire, but they were no match for the Texans.
The downside of having an offense made up of rookies at key positions is that sometimes they play like rookies and the Browns learned that first-hand in Houston. Baker Mayfield went into meltdown mode with three interceptions in the first half. The most devastating one came midway through the second quarter when Zach Cunningham picked off Mayfield and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
Mayfield's gunslinging attitude is good for the Browns, but as Cleveland learned this week, it can sometimes backfire. After facing two bad defenses over the past two weeks (Bengals, Falcons), it's almost like Mayfield thought he was once again going to be able to have his way with an opposing defense, even though the opposing defense in this game was a Texans unit ranked seventh in the NFL going into this week.
Mayfield kept trying to force things that just weren't there. Following the game, Mayfield took responsibility for his picks and even admitted that one of them came on a "dumb" throw.
"It's on me to take care of the ball, because if we do that the first half then we're definitely in that game," Mayfield said, via ESPN.com. "There's zero question about that. We had the things we wanted. I got to be able to execute them."
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Of course, Mayfield wasn't the only rookie to struggle for Cleveland. Antonio Callaway also had a big blunder when he was stripped at Houston's one-yard line on the tail end of a 71-yard catch.
If Callaway scores there, it's a 26-14 game with just under four minutes left to play in the third quarter. Instead, Callaway lost the fumble and the Browns didn't get near the end zone again until there was just under three minutes left to play in the game.
The turnovers by Mayfield and Callaway killed any chances the Browns had of winning the game. The Browns still have a lot to learn, but the good news for everyone in Cleveland is that watching these rookies learn on the job should actually be exciting now that there's no one on the coaching staff to hinder their performance (Cough... Hue Jackson... Cough).
Baltimore 26-16 over Atlanta
Lamar Jackson has officially turned the Ravens offense into a runaway tank that can't be stopped. For the third week in a row, the Ravens topped 200 yards rushing and a big reason for that was Jackson, who carried the ball 17 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. Gus Edwards also continued his surprising season with 21 carries for 82 yards. The performance marks the first time in team history that the Ravens have rushed for 200 or more yards in three straight games. Of course, as good as Jackson was, the Ravens defense was even better. The Ravens got a touchdown from cornerback Tavon Young, who iced the game with a 12-yard fumble recovery for a score in the fourth quarter. The Ravens held the Falcons to just 34 yards on the ground. Oh, and let's not forget about Justin Tucker, who also joined the scoring parade with four field goals.
The Falcons offense might have finally hit rock bottom: The offensive line couldn't protect Matt Ryan (he got sacked three times), the ground game was non-existent (15 carries for 34 yards) and receivers couldn't get open. As a matter of fact, after gaining 49 yards on their opening possession, the Falcons only totaled 82 yards for the rest of the game. The Falcons two touchdowns in this game came on a defensive score (Vic Beasley) and a garbage time score in the fourth quarter. The Falcons finished with just 131 total yards, which is the team's lowest total since 1999.
NY Giants 30-27 over Chicago (OT)
In just the fourth start of his nine-year career, Chase Daniel looked like a guy who was making the fourth start of his career. The Bears quarterback threw a pick-six on the second play from scrimmage and didn't get much better from there. However, Daniel did find a favorite target in Tarik Cohen, who caught 12 passes for 156 yards. This loss might sting for the Bears, but going 1-1 with Daniel as your starting quarterback is arguably a moral victory. The good news for Chicago is that Mitchell Trubisky is expected to return next week.
If the Giants are still trying to figure out their quarterback situation for next season, they might want to consider Odell Beckham. The Giants star threw his second touchdown pass of the season when he hit Russell Shepard for a 49-yard score in the third quarter. Beckham also caught a TD pass in the same quarter, and the Giants definitely needed both touchdowns in this overtime win. The Giants had some serious success against the Bears defense and a big reason for that was Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 125 yards. In overtime, Barkley basically set up Aldrick Rosa's game-winning 44-yard field goal by himself with 36 rush yards on a drive that went for 49 yards.
Tampa Bay 24-17 over Carolina
Cam Newton took the blame for his loss after the game, which makes sense, because he almost single-handedly torpedoed any chance the Panthers had of winning. Newton threw four interceptions against the Bucs, including two that came on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter when the Panthers were just one score away from tying the game. One Panthers player who didn't struggle was Christian McCaffrey, who had another huge game with 19 touches for 161 yards (106 rushing, 55 receiving).
Newton is probably never going to want to see Andrew Adams ever again after what the Buccaneers safety did to him on Sunday. Adams picked off Newton three times and became the first Tampa defensive player to pull off an interception hat trick since 2009. The Bucs defense basically had a field day against Newton. Not only did they pick him off four times, but they also recorded four sacks. Although Newton was an interception machine, Jameis Winston didn't throw a single pick for the second straight week. The Bucs quarterback threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns and played mistake-free football, which was somewhat surprising considering how his early season went. After throwing eight interceptions in his first three starts, Winston has now thrown zero in his past two.
Jacksonville 6-0 over Indianapolis
Colts coach Frank Reich might have actually outcoached himself. In a game where points were at a premium, Reich passed up multiple field goal attempts to go for it on fourth down. The problem for the Colts is that they went 0-for-3 on those fourth down conversions, which all came in Jacksonville territory. Sometimes it's OK to be aggressive, but the Colts looked a little confused on each of their fourth down attempts. One fourth down attempt ended with a lost fumble, one ended with a shovel pass being stopped for no gain and one ended with Andrew Luck being sacked in the fourth quarter, which was especially ugly, because it came after the Colts had called a timeout to plan the play. The shutout marks the first time in Luck's career that Indy has been held scoreless in a game where he was the starting quarterback.
The benching of Blake Bortles apparently inspired the Jaguars defense, because they had their best game of the year on Sunday. The Jags sacked Andrew Luck three times and forced two turnovers, but that wasn't even the most impressive part of the game for them. The most impressive part was that the Jags stopped Indy on three separate fourth-and-1 attempts inside Jacksonville territory, including a stop at the one-yard lie. The Jags defense was so good that Jacksonville might have won even if Bortles was starting. With Bortles on the bench, Cody Kessler threw for 150 yards and did just enough by leading Jacksonville on two scoring drives that led to field goals from Josh Lambo. This game marked just the second time in 10 years that the Jags have pitched a shutout. The only other one came last year and it was also against the Colts.
Miami 21-17 over Buffalo
Josh Allen had a huge game, but he overshadowed his own performance with costly errors. Not only did the Bills rookie quarterback throw two interceptions, but he also missed a chance to win this game when he missed a wide open Charles Clay in the end zone on the Bills' final offensive play of the game. If Allen would have been able to make the throw, the Bills might have carried him off the field, and that's because he carried the offense with 135 yards on the ground and 231 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The Bills defense only surrendered 175 yards to Miami, marking the first time since 2004 that Buffalo lost a game when giving up less than 180 yards. The Bills had a rough day on special teams with a missed field goal and a muffed punt that the Dolphins would recover and eventually turn into a touchdown.
The Dolphins offense struggled against the Bills, but came through in the clutch. Despite going three-and-out on five different possessions, the Dolphins managed to scrape together just enough offense to win this game. Ryan Tannehill only completed 16 passes, but three of those went for touchdowns, including a 13-yard score to Kenny Still with 8:42 left that ended up being the game-winner.
Houston 29-13 over Cleveland
One bright spot in this game for the Browns was Jarvis Landry, who caught six passes for 103 yards. Of course, bright spots don't really mean anything when you turn the ball over four times and lose by 16 points. The Browns defense also did a decent job of getting pressure on Deshaun Watson. The Browns sacked him four times with 1.5 of those coming from Myles Garrett.
At the rate they're going, the Texans might not ever lose again, especially if Lamar Miller keeps steamrolling everyone. The Texans running back finished with 103 yards as Houston rolled to 187 total yards on the ground. Of course, the big reason the Texans won is because they picked off Baker Mayfield on three straight possessions during the first half, including a 38-yard pick-six from Zach Cunningham. Those interceptions led to 13 points and were a big reason that Houston was able to jump out to a 23-0 halftime lead.
Denver 24-10 over Cincinnati
Although Case Keenum couldn't take advantage of playing against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Philip Lindsay definitely didn't squander the opportunity. The Broncos running back carried Denver's offense with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. The Broncos defense also did a good job of terrorizing Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was making his first career start. Denver racked up four sacks, including 1.5 by Von Miller and Shelby Harris.
The Bengals defense put together one of its best performances of the season, but that went to waste, because they couldn't score points with a backup quarterback (Jeff Driskel) starting against Denver's defense. The problem for the Bengals is that they decided to let Driskel throw the ball 38 times even though they had a running back in Joe Mixon was 6.8 yards per carry on the day (12 rushed for 82 yards). Oh, and when we say the Bengals were good on defense, we mean they were good for the Bengals.
Los Angeles Rams 30-16 over Detroit
The Rams have multiple MVP candidates on their roster and the Lions have zero, which was basically the difference in this game. One of those MVP candidates for the Rams is Aaron Donald and he continued to make his case for the award with two sacks, including a strip-sack in the fourth quarter that helped the Rams put the game away. Another one those MVP candidates is Todd Gurley, who ran right through the Lions defense for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
A big reason the Lions lost this game was due to an ugly fourth quarter that included a punt and two turnovers. The Lions' two biggest problems in the game seemed to be the fact that they couldn't protect Matthew Stafford (sacked four times) and they couldn't convert on third down (2-for-12). If you want to beat the Rams, you need to keep their offense off the field, which is hard to do when you can't convert on third down.
Arizona 20-17 over Green Bay
With snow falling in Green Bay, the Cardinals did exactly what you need to do to win a game being played in 30-degree weather: They pounded the ball on offense and let their defense do the rest. Offensively, David Johnson carried the load with 20 carries for 69 yards. However, he probably didn't help your fantasy team and that's because the Cards decided to turn to another running back (Chase Edmonds) in the red zone. Edmonds rushed for 53 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. Defensively, the Cards shut down Green Bay on third down (3 of 14) and didn't let Aaron Rodgers complete a single pass over 20 yards.
If you lose to the Cardinals at home with your season on the line, you get an "F." Going into Sunday, the Packers now 35-year-old quarterback had won 15 straight December home games, but that streak ended because the Packers couldn't move the ball on the Cardinals defense. This is probably going to go down as the worst birthday ever for Aaron Rodgers, who turned 35 on Sunday. The upside for Rodgers is that if he wanted Mike McCarthy out, that finally happened. The Packers fired their long-time coach shortly after the loss.
Tennessee 26-22 over New York Jets
Although the Jets defense (pick-six) and special teams (blocked punt, blocked extra point) did everything possible to keep New York in this game, Josh McCown and the offense couldn't hold up their end of the bargain. The ugliest thing for the Jets was probably the fact that they got inside the red zone three times and came away with zero touchdowns.
The Titans almost gave this game away during an ugly first half that included a Marcus Mariota pick-six, an 0-for-5 showing on third down, a blocked extra point and a blocked punt that the Jets eventually turned into a field goal. Also ugly was the fact that at the two-minute warning of the first half, Mariota had only thrown for 23 yards. Mariota made up for his struggles in the fourth quarter when he led the Titans on three scoring drives, including a drive that ended with a Corey Davis catching the game-winning touchdown from 11 yards out with just 36 seconds to play.
Kansas City 40-33 over Oakland
In their first game without Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs decided to get a little crazy with their rushing attack. In a game where they totaled 174 yards on the ground, the Chiefs got more then 35 yards from four different players: Patrick Mahomes (52), Spencer Ware (47), Damien Williams (38) and Tyreek Hill (37). Of course, the Chiefs probably could have not run the ball at all, because Mahomes had another huge game with 295 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Defensively, the Chiefs somehow got torched for 33 points by a Raiders offense that went into this week as one of the NFL's lowest scoring teams, averaging just 17 points per game.
If Jon Gruden has the Raiders doing extra ball security drills this week, it's probably because his team fumbled away their chances to beat the Chiefs, If you're going to beat the Chiefs, you have to pretty much play a perfect game, and Oakland almost did that on Sunday, except for the fact that they lost three fumbles. Those three turnovers led to 13 points for Kansas City in a game where Oakland somehow managed to stick around for four quarters.
New England 24-10 over Minnesota
If you can run on the Vikings, you're probably going to beat them. For the fifth time this year, the Vikings gave up more than 100 yards rushing, and for the fifth time, they lost. The Vikings seemed to be baffled by a Patriots game plan that included seven different players getting a carry. Offensively, the Vikings ended this game with three disastrous possessions. First, they failed to convert on fourth down with just over six minutes left to play. We can probably blame that one on Kirk Cousins, who threw a short dump off pass on fourth-and-11. Things only got worse on Minnesota's next two possessions and that's because they both ended with Cousins throwing an interception. It was an ugly game for Cousins, who seems to struggle against better teams.
Bill Belichick probably won't have too much to complain about after this win. The Patriots offense was able to move the ball at will against a Vikings defense that went into the game ranked third in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. The Patriots did their damage through the air (Tom Brady threw for 311 yards) and on the ground (the Patriots rushed for 160 yards, which is the most the Vikings have given up all season). Defensively, the Patriots shutd own one of the top receivers in the league, holding Adam Thielen to just 28 yards. As a matter of fact, no Vikings receiver went for more than 50 yards in the game.
Seattle 43-16 over San Francisco
After falling behind 20-0 to start the game, the 49ers tore up their offensive game plan and decided to just let Nick Mullens air it out. Unfortunately for San Francisco, that turned out to be a horrible idea. Mullens threw a pick-six and was sacked three times in a game where the 49ers were basically overmatched as soon as they stepped on the field.
Russell Wilson only completed 11 passes against the 49ers, but four of them went for touchdowns, and that's the kind of day it was for Seattle. The Seahawks basically imposed their will on a hapless 49ers team that couldn't do anything to stop the Seahawks. Besides Wilson's highly efficient performance (185 yards, four touchdowns), the Seahawks also pounded out 168 yards on the ground. Bobby Wagner also tacked on a 98-yard pick-six and a sack just for good measure. That was one of two plays the Seahawks had that went for more than 80 yards: Tyler Lockett also returned a kickoff 84 yards. Lockett also had a 52-yard catch as he totaled 173 yards in the game.
Los Angeles Chargers 33-30 over Pittsburgh
With the Chargers trailing 23-7 at the half, they needed someone to come up big in the second half, and that player ended up being Keenan Allen. The Steelers had no answer for Allen, who somehow seemed to get open no matter what Pittsburgh tried. Of the 26 passes that Philip Rivers completed in the game, 14 of them went to Allen, who finished with 148 yards and a touchdown. The most miraculous part of the win might have been the fact that the Chargers special teams actually came through in the clutch. Not only did they get a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown from Desmond King in the third quarter, but Michael Badgley also hit a nerve-wracking game-winning field goal from 29 yards. The kick had some drama because he missed twice, but got to retry it for a third time because the Steelers jumped offsides on the first two kicks.
This loss is probably going to stick with the Steelers, and that's mainly because something like this had never happened before in franchise history. Going into Sunday's game, Pittsburgh was 220-0-2 all-time when leading by 14 or more points at home. After jumping out to a 23-7 halftime lead, the Steelers allowed the Chargers back in by going ice cold to start the second half. Not only did the Steelers punt on their first three possessions of the half, but one of those punts was returned for a TD. Of course, the Steelers might be more upset with the officials than they are with themselves. Two of the Chargers' four touchdowns came on highly questionable plays: the refs missed an obvious false start on one TD and a block in the back on the punt return TD. The wild loss overshadowed a big game from Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Philadelphia 28-13 over Washington
With the Redskins down to their third-string quarterback, Adrian Peterson and the defense did their best to keep Washington in the game, but it wasn't quite enough. Peterson rushed for 98 yards against the Eagles, which included a career-long 90-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The problem for the Redskins is that Mark Sanchez was running the show in the second half, which turned into a total disaster. On five second-half possessions, the Redskins punted four times, Sanchez threw an interception, the Redskins only got two first downs and they were held to just 36 yards. The Eagles defense forced Sanchez to beat them by taking Peterson out -- he had just eight carries for eight yards out side of his big run -- and things got ugly. Sanchez was only in the game because Colt McCoy fractured his fibula.
It looks like Carson Wentz and the Eagles have finally found a role for Golden Tate in their offense. After totaling just 97 receiving yards in his first three games with the Eagles, Tate was the star on Monday with seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles' newest receiver also caught a two-point conversion that iced the game in the fourth quarter. When Wentz wasn't throwing to Tate, he was throwing to Zach Ertz, who caught nine passes for 83 yards. The suddenly-balanced Eagles offense also did some damage on the ground with three running backs -- Josh Adams, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles -- who went had more than 20 yards rushing.